Should we let employees have unlimited holidays?

Louise Amantani

I receLouiseA_smallntly went to the MRS Travel and Tourism Conference, and the most interesting thing I learnt there didn’t actually have much to do with travel or tourism. Helen Rose of the 7Stars and Lesley Dusart of Exterion Media did a great presentation on debunking myths about the travel sector, in which they reported that 46% of us agreed that we get the right amount of annual leave. In other words, only half of us at most are angling to get more than our allowance.

Furthermore, they mentioned how one organisation had experimented with allowing employees to take an unlimited amount of leave (a growing number of companies in fact offer this)[1]. And rather than ending up with an empty office, they actually found that on average, people ended up taking around 4 weeks – in other words, roughly the same amount most people are usually given anyway.

So what does this tell us? You could argue that it shows most people are grown ups, and you should trust people to take the amount of leave they need. After all, if you’re someone who takes a day off every time they have a hangover or England are playing in an afternoon slot, you probably would have pulled a sickie anyway…. and if you keep on doing that, you’re only going to slow down your own career anyway. Maybe if you show some trust in your employees, they’ll feel respected, and will step up and earn that respect.

I’m not so sure though. Good market reseparaglidingarchers know that a mean score can conceal a large distribution of results. Maybe the “average” employee was taking a sensible amount of le
ave, but maybe there weren’t many “average” people in reality. Maybe some people were taking way too much leave – and actually, maybe some people were taking too little.

As someone who worked at home for several years, I know that the lack of social cues can
make it easy to lapse into unhealthy behaviour. It’s easy to start work a bit later in the morning, and on the other hand, it’s also easy to keep working into the evening if you feel like you didn’t get enough done. And before you know it, you’ve turned into a vampire.

Presenteeism is a growing problem in the UK, and actually now costs employers twice as much as absenteeism:[2] this is because if you turn up to work sick, your productivity falls and maybe so will your colleagues’ if you
infect them. A new trend of “leaveism” has even now been identified, where people take holidays just to catch up on their backlog of work. Since job insecurity may now be a long term trend, people who are uncertain how safe their jobs are now often prefer to err on the side of working too hard.

If you give people an unlimited holiday allowance, you’re asking them to guess how hard their boss w
ants them to work – you’re asking them to please a faceless god. Isn’t
it better to establish a social norm of how much leave it’s healthy to take, and replace that faceless god with a smiling boss? I probably wouldn’t go as far as the Dutch company that makes everybody’s desks disappear at the end of the day – what if you were in the middle of solving a crisis? But an annual leave feels like just the right level of nudging.

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2015/12/19/24-7-wall-st-companies-unlimited-vacation/77422898/

[2] http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2015/11/04/annual-cost-of-presenteeism-is-twice-that-of-absenteeism-says-prof-cooper.aspx