Management Tactic #32: Vacate the Vacation Policy

One of the big perks about my job is that I get a lot of vacation days. If you can believe it, I have too many vacation days. I value days off for travel, family, friends, and writing, but I find myself struggling to use them all.

Which seems crazy, right? Most of you probably find yourselves in the opposite predicament. You wish you had more vacation days. But you and I, we have something in common:

No matter how many vacation days we have, we still have to complete quality work on time.

This is me looking to the future of no vacation policies.

So why do vacation days matter? Your vacation days simply control the amount of time you have to get your work done. If there are 250 business days in the year and you have 50 vacation days, you have to be extremely efficient to get your work done well within 200 days. If you only have 10 vacation days, you have a lot more time to spread out your work. That might lead to an increase in quality, or it might lead to an increase in procrastination.

Either way, why are we letting vacation policies control the way we do work? Why don’t we just do good work, and when we’re done our work, we go on vacation? After all, we’re already taking mini vacations all the time. Maybe it’s a long lunch or you leave early to pick up your kids from school. Or maybe you work a full day until 5:30 and then answer work e-mails for an hour at night at 10:00. If you’re never letting go of work, isn’t the time between 5:30 and 10:00 a mini vacation?

Netflix realized the uselessness of a vacation policy years ago. “We should focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked,” they decided (read an article about this here). The article goes on to say that “Netflix’s roughly 600 salaried employees can vacation any time they desire for as long as they want – provided that their managers know where they are and that their work is covered.

Doesn’t that seem right to you? Instead of tagging and tracking employees like birds, trust them to fly free. Judge them on the quality of their work, not how many days they sat behind a desk. (The bird analogy doesn’t apply to the second sentence.)

If you ran your company, how would you approach your vacation policy?

10 thoughts on “Management Tactic #32: Vacate the Vacation Policy”

  1. I think this: would have made a better vacation picture, and have supported my argument that people need structure. Dan Ariely describes an experiment in which he allowed his students to select their own deadlines for the papers they needed to write for his class. What he found was that when given the option to procrastinate, individuals take that option. Structure helps us perform our best. If I had unlimited vacation, I would be at jade mountain and then REALLY stressed when I came back without enough time to do my work.

    • An interesting point. But Ariely also points out when people choose their own deadlines and stagger them throughout the semester, they get their work done well and on time.

  2. I have mixed thoughts on this. In theory, I love it. I think this idea is perfect for the casual traveler who likes to take an occasional extra day or two off whenever something comes up. However, I’m not sure this policy works for someone like my soon-to-be wife, who will have patients on her schedule every day if her schedule isn’t blocked off as “out of the office”. She has to designate well in advance that she’s not going to be in, unlike someone like you or me, who can tell by Wednesday if all of our big items will be done early (so we could potentially take Friday off). On the flip side, it’s very stressful for me to try to plan for 2 weeks off because my projects never stop, whereas someone in, say, the health field, doesn’t come back to any backlog of work. Long story long, I think this policy works well for people who work in certain types of jobs and like the occasional day off here and there, but it might not fit for everyone.

    Overall, I’d love it though if my employer told me I could just take vacation whenever I wanted!

    • Trev and Katie–You both make good points (rather, the same point): Getting rid of vacation policies doesn’t work for every salaried job. In fact, even at my place of work, presence–physically being here–is so important. However, I think this could work really well for many types of salaried jobs.

  3. I think this would be a DISASTER in my field. It would be far too easy for someone to claim that their work was taken care of, and it would appear that way upon review, but it would all fall to pieces while they were gone. I could see a lot of hard feelings and complaints because one person would inevitably feel like they had more work to complete than someone else, and therefore couldn’t take off as much time. Even if it could be coached that they just needed to work more efficiently, they, of course, wouldn’t view it that way. Then perhaps they would start trying to cut corners to get their work completed faster. Maybe in the long run the kinks could work out and everyone would adapt, but I’d probably have a mutiny on my hands long before we’d be able to reach that point.

  4. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!


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