There has been a ton of discussion about the merits of unlimited vacation, offered by companies like Netflix,

The 400 salaried employees are evaluated on their individual performances, not face time. Still, they must be able to balance work and vacation responsibly to get their work done. And they must be able to work without constant supervision.

The more I read about unconventional methods of rewarding and retaining employees, the more the SMG management team discussed it, the clearer it became that offering unlimited paid time off to our employees made a ton of sense. Our business is extremely fast-paced, and while we are relatively small, we are mighty – working with huge organizations like 3M, Ford, CNN, SAP, Thomson Reuters and one of the top three global banks. We’re playing with the “big boys” and our incredible team has to deliver their A+ game – Every. Single. Day. (and sometimes after the day is technically over). Like Netflix, we are not interested in the adequate – our team is made up of exceptional, hard-working individuals because that’s what it takes to be the best.

It was that last part that really underscored the appropriateness of letting people take time when they needed it. Realistically, there is no such thing as a “work/life balance”. I think of it instead as a “work/life blend”. Sometimes your work blends into your life (working late or on weekends, doing what you need to do to deliver quality results). Why shouldn’t your life blend into your work (taking an afternoon off to spend with your kids)?

So, starting in September, Social Media Group began offering all of our employees unlimited time off. We obviously have some guidelines in place (with rewards come responsibility: you’re responsible for your own mental health, your clients and your colleagues), but I feel like it’s really lightened the load in our high-pressure, high-quality, top-notch delivery environment: no more worrying if you have enough vacation time saved to keep yourself healthy. Take time when you and your family need it; you have earned it.

What do you think about this policy? How do you think your organization would manage if a similar policy was instituted where you work?

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29 Comments

  1. Barry Waite

    More proof that SMG is a leader in its field. A successful company is one that lives its culture and values – not just talks about it. I think the issue of work/life balance is critical to the future success of companies in the 24/7 world we live in.

  2. I think it’s a fantastic approach to treating your employees like valid, valued contributors to your business’ success. When people only get 2-3 weeks vacation a year, they burn out more readily and are more prone to wasting time prepping for their vacation than actually working all the way up to and afterwards…the Europeans do it, so why is North America so slow to adopt this sensible approach?

  3. Fantastic @maggiefox. Kudos, and good luck building an even stronger business.

  4. maggiefox Author

    Thanks, everyone – and I think it’s really important to stress that our employees have earned the right to flexible time off because they work so damn hard to deliver value. This isn’t a 9-5 workplace, and it’s important for us to acknowledge and reward that!

  5. Hi Maggie… I just did the same policy at our “small but mighty” team at the Executive Roundtable. My accountant nearly had a heartattack though. Mumbling things about required vacation time etc. Would love to talk to you about how you’ve managed to keep your accountant happy with this particular item.

  6. maggiefox Author

    @Glain – it’s simple, everyone is allowed the minimum time in their contract (so if they leave they are paid for what time, if any, of that is unused). Everything else is gravy. Tell your accountant to get creative ;-)

  7. Great that you’ve implemented this program and completely agree with your blog post. Like Glain, I would be very interested to understand some of the details about how you manage this. Things like, tracking accrued vacation time etc etc.

  8. maggiefox Author

    Hey Rob – we still track time, it’s still submitted through our tracking system, but it’s really about accountability. Accountability for your mental health, your work and to your peers. Time off must of course, still be approved, but that goes back to accountability to the business.

  9. A friend of mine put it perfectly: If they expect me to work when I’m at home, they should expect that I do “life” when I’m at work.

  10. amy schaefer

    I agree Maggie! Offering unlimited vacation time is a must. Let’s face it, we can all use a mental health day to avoid burning out. The standard two to three weeks a year is preposterous! If you’re doing an exceptional job you should reap the rewards and be given the freedom to manage your own time. People these days work around the clock often unpaid once they punch out and go home for the day. By offering unlimited vacations, an employee has the opportunity to work at their pace and relax at their leisure. By empowering the employee to manage his/her own time as an employer, you’re letting them know you trust them and value their contributions. When you’re treated like a person as opposed to a machine you’re more creative and are more flexible. In an age when people are responding to work emails during their leisure time, why not let them make up for time they lose with their family when it’s convenient for them? If more companies allowed this there would be more productivity and better employee/employer relationships built on the common understanding that you have to do your job well and you will be taken care of. I couldn’t agree with the unlimited vacation policy any more.

  11. Hi Maggie, This morning our team discussed your article in the Financial Post in our morning meeting and we are interested in implementing the same policy within our firm. I would like to know more specific details as to how you work out this plan. Is their a maximum of days allowed with the flexibility of taking days whenever, or is there really no maximum of days allowed? Congratulations on implementing this policy! Hopefully more companies will follow in your foot steps.

  12. I think that I want to work with you!!! Seriously now, the lack of attention to the nuance you pointed out (work/life blend and not work/life balance) was one of the reasons why I quit my 9-5 (and beyond) a couple of months ago. I understand if you have committed people they will do what they are expected and supposed to with a lot more joy! Congrats on the decision. If you need more collaborative work with a Brazilian perspective Im available (work from home and via Skype, no extra cost!). ;)

  13. Jevon

    I want some vacation please.

  14. maggiefox Author

    @jevon: take all the time you need. Do I have to start paying you?

  15. Maggie Fox Author

    @stephanie – happy to chat further, and in answer to your question – there is no maximum, but I will reiterate that all employees are responsible for their own mental health, to their colleagues and their clients. That means you’d better be taking at least 2 weeks a year, and relistically, if someone wants to take 3 months off? It’s going to be a problem for the business unless it’s very clearly planned in advance. It’s all about moderation. That being said, if someone can deliver the awesome we demand in a 4-day week, well, why not, since they are so obviously a rock star??

  16. wow. what a breath of fresh air! Such an insanely realistic policy…get your work done, work when you want. Sounds like the ideas that Daniel Pink talks about http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y are starting to catch on in industry. I’d love that you guys have taken this leap.

    When the best talent in Canada is faced with a choice between a company like yours and a company that “negotiates” 3 weeks vacation, I’d bet you win the talent nearly every time.

    Bravo!

  17. Martha

    Hey Maggie,

    A year later and in light of this post: http://gigaom.com/2011/09/02/do-we-need-defined-hours-of-work-any-more/ I’m curious to hear how you feel the experiment has worked?

    I’m a big believer in letting people manage their work and their time, with, as you said, some guidelines and expectations in place.

    Would love to hear if you’ve continued the practice or if there have been any surprising results.

    Cheers
    Martha

  18. Terv

    Bravo Maggie. Its a perfectly simple yet amazing idea. What would you say is the main challenge though in getting this to work without harming the mental health of all parties concerned? Individual employee accountability?

  19. Maggie Fox Author

    @martha – thanks for the comment! And to be honest, I can’t imagine going back; we’ve had absolutely no issues and I have not heard anyone on staff wishing they could go back to a limited number of days off per year. So, I guess you could say it works like a charm!

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