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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Unlimited Vacation Policy? What You Should Know

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Like an increasing number of employers these days, your workplace may offer a flexible or “unlimited” vacation policy. The idea: You’re free to take as much time off as you choose, as long as you get the job done. It’s a focus on producing great results, rather than just putting in the hours.

At my company, ZenPayroll, we feel that our flexible vacation policy helps build an ownership mentality. We want our employees to think like owners and consider what’s best for both themselves and the company. Letting them figure out their own vacation time shows that we trust and respect them, which in turn strengthens their commitment to the company.

Other businesses are finding similar benefits. Netflix, for instance, lets its salaried employees take as much time off as they want—and nobody, including managers or employees, tracks it. "We should focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked,” the company said in a slideshow called “Freedom & Responsibility Culture.”

From an employee perspective, however, figuring out how to use your company’s flexible vacation policy may be challenging. How can you maximize this great perk your company offers without giving your managers or teammates the impression you’re abusing it? Here are some guidelines to help.

Understand the Expectations

While the overarching goal is generally the same—to create a results-driven culture of trust—different companies and managers may approach their flexible vacation policies differently. For example, you may truly be able to take a day off whenever, or you may need to work around others’ schedules or get your time off approved by your boss or HR. Staffing needs and workplace structure can also affect how realistic it is for employees to take off whenever they please.

If your company or manager doesn’t clearly spell out how it expects employees to use the vacation policy, find out. Ask your manager to explain the intent behind the policy and whether there are any rules or guidelines you should know about and follow.

Know What’s Acceptable—and What’s Not

Even if your time off is technically “unlimited,” your manager obviously doesn’t expect you’ll take off 75% of the time. Actually, he or she probably has at least a general range of number of days or weeks in mind that is acceptable for an employee to take off—even if that range hasn't been openly communicated. Similarly, your company may expect you to take a minimum number of vacation days. At the company HubSpot, for example, employees are expected to take at least two weeks off each year under its “two weeks to infinity” policy.

To get a sense of the norms, ask your boss (or other colleagues) how many days or weeks other employees typically take off. If the theme seems to be “2-3 weeks, plus a day here and there,” stick to that. If you have any doubt about whether you’re using the vacation policy appropriately, pay attention to how your manager and those around you use it. (Of course, be careful: Some workplaces do have different rules and expectations for managers and their reports.)

Communicate Your Time-off Plans

Even if your vacation policy lets you take off on short notice, chances are your absence will directly affect your boss or colleagues. So, give them as much advance notice as you realistically can, as well as any information they need in order to operate without you. Filling out a spreadsheet or vacation-request form may not be necessary, but a heads-up email—including duties that need to be reassigned while you’re gone and how you can be reached in case of emergency—will be much appreciated.

Keep in mind that you’re lucky to work for an employer that trusts you to do your job well and gives you the freedom to take off as much time as you want. While you certainly don’t want to abuse that trust, don’t be afraid to take full advantage of it. The goal of an unlimited, flexible vacation policy is to empower you with an ownership mentality, where you think about what’s best for the company and what’s best for yourself. Assuming you’re at a job where you care about the work you’re doing, then you’re in the best position to set the right balance so you do great work in the short-term and in the long-term.