7
14
Lindsay Bell

The Vacation Nation: Unlimited Paid Time Off

By: Lindsay Bell | November 14, 2012 | 
59

Today’s guest post is by Lindsay Bell.

I don’t know about you, but from where I’m sitting up here in the Great White North, it’s getting pretty chilly.

Winter storms are on the horizon, and while Gini Dietrich might be a snow bunny, I, my friends, most certainly am not.

Right now I’m starting to dream of southern climes.

I’m obsessed with watching TV shows about places such as Belize, Thailand, and Mexico. In other words: White sandy beaches, oppressive heat, and cocktails at dawn.

Like most of you, in the past (I’ve only been with the Spin Sucks gang since September) when I started thinking about escaping from my cold, dark life, I would count up my vacation days and say “Aw, crap, never mind.”

Because taking time off for sick kids, doctor’s appointments, and whatever other random crap life sometimes throws your way (Oh hey! My basement’s flooded!), eats up those precious few paid days off faster than you can say “Honey, book the airport limo!”

The statistics back this up.

Around the world, the good ol’ U.S.A. is affectionately known as the ‘no vacation nation.’ It’s the only developed country without a federal mandate for a minimum number of vacation days. At last count, 39.7 percent of American workers had no access to holiday days. And, while my American friends sure know how to celebrate a holiday (helloooo? Thanksgiving..??) your great states only actually have 10 public holidays a year, a number below the global average.

And before I get all smug on y’all, Canada fares no better. While our somewhat socialist attitude practically guarantees paid time off with a statutory minimum of 10 vacation days, apparently – with only nine public holidays – we don’t actually know how to party.

All Work No Play…

As the working world changes and adapts to our new mobile way of life, companies are realizing (albeit slowly) that people really never stop working. Raise your hand if you respond to texts at nights and weekends? Answer your phone while at the park with your kids? Heck, most of you have probably done all of the above plus checked your business email account between mai tais in Mexico.

Which brings me to the latest trend in employee benefits: Unlimited paid time off. Among many others, Netflix is doing it. And so are The Social Media Group and Social Strata.

What an unlimited paid time off policy policy does is threefold:

  • It recognizes and respects that employees rarely – really – stop working.
  • It actually allows people to achieve a semblance of work/life balance.
  • And, maybe the most shocking thing of all, it says to staff members “Hey, you’re an adult, we trust you.”

I know right? You’ve just fallen off your chair and booked a six month cruise around the world! But it doesn’t actually work that way.

Companies who have UPTO policies still monitor the amount of time people take off (that’s a given from a business standpoint), and require notice in advance for, say, a trip abroad. But if you need a morning off, or want to leave early for an appointment or to watch your kid play soccer? Off you go!

Stress Kills

Businesses are beginning to understand that the more people work (beyond a 40 hour week), the less productive they actually are. How deeply family stressors can affect ones day-to-day output. And how inspired and motivated employees can be when they feel empowered and trusted.

Interestingly enough, people don’t tend to abuse these policies. The old “give someone enough rope and they’ll hang themselves” adage doesn’t apply here. If anything, bosses are discovering they need to go out of their way to enforce proper vacation time and ensure staffers aren’t trying to play hero by being the guy who never takes time off.

I understand this is not a business practice that every industry can adopt. It’s the tech world’s new shiny thing at the moment. But I bet many organizations could work in this type of flexibility if they really wanted to.

Fact: Times have changed. It’s not about clocking in and clocking out any longer. We all have day-to-day responsibilities and longer term goals that we have to hit.

What an unlimited paid time off policy says is this: Deliver on time, hit your numbers, don’t screw up, let us know where you are and when you’ll be in (or not), but make sure you live your life to the fullest.

Lindsay Bell is the content director at Arment Dietrich, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, and two annoying cats. 

Note from Gini: Well, Lindsay just spilled the beans for our plans for 2013. Look for more on our unlimited paid time off benefits next year.

About Lindsay Bell


Lindsay Bell is the content director at Arment Dietrich, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank Dawge, a Vizsla/Foxhound/moose hybrid. Ok, maybe not moose.

57 comments
JRHalloran
JRHalloran

Sorry I'm late to this discussion, but I COMPLETELY agree with you @belllindsay! Being a young American just starting out in the professional workforce, it bothers me immensely how little a thought goes into a proper vacation. 

So many employers always want the impossible. Overwork yourself, but don't go over 40 hours. Don't take any more than two weeks off, or else we'll hold it against you. I mean, come on! 

If you want authentic productivity, don't choke the very things that make us human. Maybe I should consider joining you guys next year! 

withinia
withinia

A 65 year old new retiree was fishing on a beach. He turned to an Aboriginal fishing nearby and said "I have been working all my life to do this".

"Yeah", was the response, I have spent my entire life doing just this, and that is all I have done. Sad, hey"?

KDillabough
KDillabough

I know how to party:) That.is.all. Cheers! Kaarina

Carmelo
Carmelo

Do they give you a choice - if you want this or not? Not sure I'd go for that. I used to save weeks and carry them over to the next year. they'd really add up! I don't think they allow that with UPTO ... do they?

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

Interesting Lindsay. When I was a kid, we didn't really do vacations, we visited family. I never learned how to take a vacation and enjoy myself until I was 30 years old. I think not knowing how to relax stunted my professional growth. 

AmyMccTobin
AmyMccTobin

I don't know if I could ever go back to 'regular hours.'  For most of my adult life I've been in outside sales or self employed, meaning I never stopped working, but no one was clocking me either.  I hope this is a wave that more companies will follow. Americans addiction to working themselves to death? It will never end.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

What an amazing perk being off all year and having @ginidieteich pay you. Count me in!

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

Great timing--I just read an interview with EverNote's CEO where he said he still didn't see employees vacationing enough with unlimited PTO, so he also PAYS employees $1000 spending money as a bonus for taking at least one entire week off for a real, going-somewhere vacation. Obviously not everyone is running a Silicon Valley startup that needs to attract talent employers are competing like cats and dogs for, but I think many employers could stand to learn from policies that reward not just using PTO here and there, but taking real restorative time. I think culture in America is detrimental to this, as we are trained to always consider ourselves replaceable, and your team being able to do without you for two weeks gives rise to thoughts of "Maybe now they think they can do without me entirely?" Almost all Americans who work have at-will employment and can be terminated for no reason at any time, so we fear doing anything that makes us seem anything other than indispensable! 

magriebler
magriebler

This is brilliant. I have nothing more to add ... other than I'm jealous.

flemingsean
flemingsean

In the UK it's common to get 25 days annual leave allocation. That's in addition to public holidays, which we refer to as Bank Holidays. There are nine of those in 2012. Usually there are just eight. The extra day off was because of the Queen's Jubilee celebrations (gawd bless yer, ma'am).

 

I've never actually managed to take off all the holiday I'm entitled to.

 

I must try harder.

bradmarley
bradmarley

But what about the people who always leave their paid time off on the table at the end of the year? I worry that if they don't have a set number of days, they'll never take time off.

 

For the record, I'm on board with this idea. :)

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @Carmelo Most companies I've worked for in the last 10-15 years don't allow you to accrue holidays any longer. They don't pay them out either. As @flemingsean said, use it or lose it! :) 

flemingsean
flemingsean

 @Carmelo There's no choice here in the UK, no. You get whatever the company has agreed to give its staff. It's rare that you're allowed to save your leave up. Use it or lose it..!!

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @barrettrossie And I thought we were the only loser family to live that life. LOL The most I did with my family growing up was go camping - and even that ended when I was around 10 because my sibs were then teenagers. Go to Disney?? HAHAHA! That's too funny to think about. I don't think we were too poor to travel, it just wasn't what my parents 'did', you know? The first trip I took was to Ireland, on my own, when I was 25. And the last trip I took was 5 years ago. I know people who travel all the time and I just don't know how they do it, financially and/or otherwise. 

flemingsean
flemingsean

 @barrettrossie I totally get this. We had one family holiday when I was a kid. Just one. I was four years old. The next time I went on holiday I was 34 years old.  

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @AmyMccTobin Wow, that's great Amy. And yes, feeling that people are 'clocking you' is the worst, I don't think I could go back to that environment again either. Being in an office would be ok, but not being treated like a kindergardener. :) 

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @jelenawoehr Can you imagine?? I also read of another place where once a year (I think) people get $7,500 bonus so they can take the whole family somewhere on vacay! I asked @ginidietrich if she would implement that policy also but she hasn't gotten back to me me yet!

 

Seriously though, that feeling of "they can function without me - OH MY GOD!!" is terrifying, especially when your job is dangled in front of you like a carrot (I've worked with bosses like that). It's no wonder people never feel they can truly tune out. Sad.  

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @flemingsean Wow, 3 weeks+ standard...?? That's crazy. But then the Europeans have always lived more civilized lives than us North Americans (ok, maybe not always). 

The year I left the CBC I had *just* reached a 5 weeks/per year PTO level. Never did use it. 

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @bradmarley "I worry that if they don't have a set number of days, they'll never take time off." Well, this is the thing Brad, and it's interesting that bosses are finding just that: People don't take *enough* time off when offered the opportunity for so much flexibility. But I bet you any money, the ones who have that difficulty are the same ones who have experienced the other side of the fence, and are thus conditioned to work longer/harder/and with one eye always watching their backs. I know I feel incredible guilt (though I am getting better at it!!) when I am off doing something else during so called normal work hours - it's a hard habit to shake. I would hope that management would ensure people get the heck outta dodge and have some down time. 

JodiEchakowitz
JodiEchakowitz

By the way, that should be 'shone a light' (not line!!)

Carmelo
Carmelo

 @belllindsay  @flemingsean Well, I haven't worked for anyone in many years so I don't know what they do now.  I let myself take time off whenever I can! Secondly, I was TRYING to be funny in that why would you turn down a UPTO offer in favor of saving up weeks as they could never add up to "unlimited"?? Obviously I'm very, very bad at humor. (note to Carmelo: never try written humor - you suck.)

flemingsean
flemingsean

 @belllindsay  @Carmelo I'll tell you what really sucks where this is concerned... if your boss changes the structure of your team so that you are the only senior person in a team of four or five.  Try taking anything more than a couple of days off without them calling you because they don't know what to do in a given scenario.

So, consequently, you don't take proper holidays and you lose a substantial chunk of your leave entitlement.

That would be terrible. I am so tremendously pleased I've never found myself in a situation like that one.

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

 @belllindsay @flemingsean I'm of an age where my parents grew up during the pre-WWII/Depression era. So travel was a luxury that they couldn't rationalize. We weren't poor, but my parents made other choices. I've been to Hawaii something like 10 times now, and that's way too few. I can be in Island mode within an hour of landing, or 15 minutes of leaving the car rental lot. On another note: Add Costa Rica to your wish list.  :-) 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @belllindsay  @jelenawoehr I think it's counterintuitive to pay people to go on vacation. They're already being paid! What we are going to do, though, is track time people do take off. And if it gets to be the middle of the year and I see people aren't taking time off, I will force it. If I can take two weeks off next year, everyone can.

Latest blog post: The Seinfeld of Blog Posts

flemingsean
flemingsean

 @belllindsay Well, five weeks off really... in Mon-Fri terms.  

Also, most of the rest of Europe is governed by the Working Time Directive, which means people can't work more than 48 hours in a week. By law. Yes, by law.

The UK opted out.

Then there's the issue of employment rights. We have much much stricter terms of employment here than in the US (I'm ashamed to say, my Maritimer friend, I'm terribly ignorant of how things are in Canada). But basically, once you've been in post for a year it is really really really really (yes that much) hard for your employer to get rid of you. Unless you commit an act of gross misconduct, you can't be fired for things like poor performance, lateness, too much time off sick etc.

The employer has to follow an exacting process of meetings, reviews and consultations. They might have to pay for the employee to get legal advice (a capped sum, not a blank cheque/check).

Any deviation from the process can lead to an employer being seriously fined in court (an employment tribunal). 

I'm sure it sounds great in many respects but you should never forget this is Britain I'm talking about... the land of warm beer and cold welcomes. :)

flemingsean
flemingsean

 @Carmelo  @belllindsay You know what they say about the UK & the US... two nations divided by a common language.  You're right about Lindsay.  Man, what a hoot.

 

I wonder how Canadians pronounce the word 'hoot'.

Carmelo
Carmelo

 @flemingsean  @belllindsay  lol ... be honest, you were just being nice! In truth, you were saying: "What?? This guy would really rather save up weeks than get time off whenever he wanted?"

 

But, yeah, I do that too. Read things so literally the humor escapes me. Of course, when I'm reading Lindsay's stuff, I'm always laughing! ;-)

flemingsean
flemingsean

 @Carmelo  @belllindsay It's not you Carmelo, it's me.  It's happened to me here once or twice (more) before.  I read things very literally I guess. I've also tried to make jokes and they've just upset people.  So, I totally get it.  :)

 

When I was running my own PR consultancy, the first time I allowed myself to go away for a week and leave my team to look after things was a very liberating experience.

 

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @barrettrossie  @flemingsean That's so funny - I just googled Costa Rica the other day - I really want to go there!! Hawaii is but a dream at this point I'm afraid. Sounds like heaven. :) 

flemingsean
flemingsean

 @belllindsay Pretty good, yes. Apart from the smell. But I won't mention that in polite company.  :)

magriebler
magriebler

 @belllindsay  @flemingsean I almost lost my husband to the Swedes the first time we visited friends there. Six weeks of vacation, paternity leave, generous benefits. And that economy is not suffering.

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @flemingsean I told you I wasn't good with figures. ;) There was a lot of chatter about US vs Canadian employment laws in may last SS post. But you lot have got it pretty good over there!!