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What Does an Unlimited Vacation Policy Actually Mean?

unlimited vacation policies

What Does an Unlimited Vacation Policy Actually Mean?

There are many perks to being a xiik geek. We collaborate on every project and encourage freedom of expression. We have Nerf gun wars, build things, and enjoy beer in the office. And with the exception of jorts and sock/sandal combos being strictly forbidden, we have no dress code. Sounds great, right?

Two more words: unlimited vacation. Seriously. There are no hidden agendas; xiik employees can take as much paid time off as needed.

Even though this policy is becoming more common in workplaces, I frequently hear questions from potential employees, colleagues, and peers:

“I can take off an entire month of work, right?”

Who wouldn’t want to take off an entire month for vacation? But let’s be reasonable here, folks. As nice as it would be to regularly leave for months at a time, common sense prevails: In most cases, it simply doesn’t make sense to be away from work for extended periods. Productivity would likely suffer. And fairness is a consideration, since a business couldn’t afford to have multiple people involved on the same project gone for long at the same time.

But extended vacations for major life events like honeymoons, mission trips, or professional development are fair game. And depending on how long you’ve been at xiik, you can take up to four consecutive weeks off at a time.

“Will I get in trouble if I take more time off than I should?”

No. But if you’re hired at xiik, odds are good that you use good judgment in general and, therefore, when choosing how much time to take off. We are all adults at xiik (well, most of the time), we understand time management, and we hit our deadlines. We work hard, so why not play hard?

As xiik founder, Topher, said when interviewed by the Indianapolis Business Journal, “We only hire adults here, so we trust you to manage your work flow. If you’re getting your stuff done, I’m not going to ask you how many vacation days you’re taking.”

After all, if you’re not doing your job, you won’t last long at any business–whether you take one week of vacation a year or five.

“Doesn’t your open vacation policy affect the quality or timelines of client projects?”

Nope! We have procedures in place that allow our team members to have flexibility in scheduling while also protecting our clients’ projects. In fact, this policy–focused on transparency, goal setting, and continuous feedback–prevents our team from becoming burnt out and increases our productivity and the quality of the work we produce.

Now it’s your turn: Do you think an unlimited vacation policy would work within your business culture? Leave your two cents below.

Kelly Melton | Project Manager See More Posts | More About Kelly Melton
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Tags: employee benefits, paid time off,

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Phil Schroeder December 7th, 2012

I think this is a great policy. As brought out in the artilce those hired have already been found to be responsible and won’t abuse the privilege. Those who do abuse it will probably be fired for more reasons than abuse of the PTO policy. And like the article mentioned if deadlines and deliverables are being met then why dicker over the smaller things. I feel like ultimately this is similar to companies allowing telecommuting. It just shows flexibility. And what intelligent employee doesn’t like that? There are some who will still barely touch their vacation days and others who will take 20 a year or more. But hey if the work is getting done and the clients are happy, who cares?

I will admit that I feel like this is a concept that is unique to certain industries for sure. I would love to see Exact Target do this but we have some a wide array of positions and the nature of work is macro in a way that I don’t see it happening. It’s just too large a company. I kind of doubt any company with more than 50 employees would implement something like this. Once you start hitting 50 and the closer you get to a 100 and more you no longer know everyone well enough to feel comfortable with giving them that kind of responsibility. Not to mention you, as an owner, will probably no longer be involved in every hire to make certain determinations.

Jenna December 7th, 2012

I would LOVE to have unlimited vacation. But I work in the public sector and while my boss is awesome about allowing us some flexibility, we still have to adhere to the county policies as far as vacation goes. I think each agency had their own internal flexibility about flexing hours etc, but vacation..well that is set in stone.
I think in theory, it has great potential to improve employee morale, personal/work satisfaction and generate in the long run better productivity. I am super jealous already! Unfortunately, I don’t work where we have “adults” who would not abuse unlimited vacation. Dont get me wrong, I think there are several of us who would treat the option with the respect it would require. Maybe employees could work to the level of achieving unlimited vacation based on performance reviews, attendance records, meeting deadlines, etc.
But Topher is lucky that he can hand pick who he wants and can really vett his employees to make sure he is getting the right employees that fit in the xiik culture. It sounds like a super dynamic fun place to work.

Jim December 10th, 2012

While it sounds good it’s probably not practical in a large company with many departments and managers. There are some departments that could work entirely from home even today and others that have to be at the office 8 hours a day if they are in a customer service function. Way to many conflicts would occur in a large company with an unlimited vacation policy.

Kelly Jannasch December 17th, 2012

Thank you for your comments! There are some other major players in the business world, such as Best Buy, Netflix, and IBM, who also have an unlimited vacation policy. Be sure to check out Mashable and The New York Times on how bigger businesses are making it work!

Topher Overstreet December 30th, 2012

I love the great comments each of you are leaving! The policy works well for us at xiik. The underlying piece is the company’s culture. I’ve worked for a large corporation and also in the public sector. I don’t think this policy would’ve worked at either place. But I think that starts with what you look for in a new-hire. We look for people who love Advertising and Marketing as an industry and want to devote a reasonable amount of time and effort to making xiik and their coworkers amazing. Therefore, we don’t have to worry about people abusing the PTO because they aren’t working a job that they dislike and they know that such abuse would weaken both xiik and the other staff.

I challenge those who think this couldn’t be done in certain companies. It’s true that I have gotten to hand-pick the majority of the staff. However, when the traits I mentioned above are part of your culture, the managers will also look for the same types of people. You’d be surprised at how good they have gotten at picking those who share similar values to the rest of us. I’m sure that as we grow we will make mistakes sometimes, but those people won’t be happy at xiik for very long.

Latha June 26th, 2013

I would like to have unlimited vacation(who will say no). I am a person who never accumulate works and do it. I believe in completing the work then and there (be proactive and work fast). SO, I feel that this will work for me. I will go for vacation and enjoy with my family. Simultaneously, see to that the work doesn’t get affected.

Mark Daniel Johansen July 31st, 2013

I’d like to see what it really means. My first reaction is that I would not like such a policy. Because just for starters, surely we all know that it is a lie. It is not really “unlimited”. You admit in your post. A new employee can’t show up for his first day of work, work one day, and then say that he plan to take the next 6 months — or 6 years — off. It is NOT “unlimited”. It is more like, “within reason”. But then that naturally brings up the question, “what is reasonable?” So I could see it quickly becoming, “We’re not exactly sure how much time you’re allowed to take off” and going from there to “we’ll just make up the rules as we go along.” I can readily see an employee wondering, “So is it okay for me to take 3 weeks off this year? Can I take 4? Or will I get in trouble?”
Worst case, I could see the company saying that there is no limit, and then firing someone for taking too much. Even assuming that they are not that blatantly unfair, surely at some point taking too much vacation counts against you when it comes to handing out raises, promotions, plum assignments, etc.
What if one employee takes off 6 weeks and everyone else only takes 2. Maybe the guy who took 6 weeks worked really hard the rest of the year to make up for it. Or maybe he didn’t. Now people are going to start to wonder, How come he gets away with that? Can I do that too, or is Bob the only one who gets that privilege? Etc.
We all know that there really is a limit. I’d prefer if someone tells me what the limit is rather than making me guess, and then penalizing me in one way or another if I guess wrong. It’s not really “unlimited vacation”. It’s really, “we won’t tell you how much vacation”.
That said, I’ve never worked for a company with such a policy. Maybe in practice it works out somehow. I’d be interested to hear just how, though.
(Of course if the way it “works out” is that ultimately everyone asks the boss, “Okay, how much time can I really take off” and he says something like “well, realistically, if you take three weeks a year no one will complain”, well then aren’t you just back where you started?)