Brits have had plenty of time to get used to the concept of statutory holidays, and most of us enjoy our annual allowances. But a new concept from the US is set to shake things up.
Advocates of the ‘unlimited holidays’ system claim that it improves productivity, morale and motivation. Detractors say that it’s difficult to implement and creates unrealistic expectations. We think that this innovative idea is worth considering, even if you decide it isn’t workable in your particular case.
The concept underpinning unlimited holidays is simple but revolutionary: you can take a paid holiday whenever you like as long as the work gets done.
Who offers unlimited holidays?
Unlimited holidays are a staple of employment at US tech giants like Netflix, Kickstarter and LinkedIn. Transatlantic outfits like Glassdoor offer unlimited holidays to their US staff, but not in the UK.
That’s an important distinction which reflects differing employment conditions in the two nations. While UK and EU workers enjoy 28 days of statutory leave each year, their US equivalents get only a handful of public holidays like Labor Day. Additional breaks are granted at the discretion of employers.
As you’d expect, US firms have long relied on extended leave to incentivise key employees. Unlimited holidays are only the latest in a long line of holiday-related innovations.
Studies show that US employers adopting the system are making a canny decision. Unlimited holidays deliver measurable productivity improvements, provided clear goals and metrics are in place. Besides the general recognition of extended leave as an appropriate recompense for hard work, most staff will appreciate being trusted to organise their own breaks. (Of course, it helps if the company already has a culture which gives employees responsibility for their own working arrangements – flexitime, homeworking and so on.)
Now, UK tech companies including Dropbox, Songkick and Eventbrite are beginning to adopt the US system. How will unlimited holidays fare in the UK?
For online businesses which emphasise the contributions made by individuals, the policy makes a lot of sense. After all, the point of work is getting stuff done, not filling out timesheets.
However, the news isn’t all good. When initiating an unlimited holidays scheme, both workers and employers need to put clearly-defined rules in place. HR departments need to be extra vigilant in efforts to keep delinquent employees from abusing the system, because such abuses will increase workloads across the team and may impact the performance of colleagues.
Interestingly, diligent workers seem to factor in such considerations even without being prompted to do so. Studies have shown that staff participating in unlimited holiday schemes tend to take 21 or 22 days’ annual leave, and may be inclined to overcompensate for their absences by working extended hours on the days they attend.
A quick reality check is in order here. That 22 days average is substantially less than workers are granted under present UK law… and there are some indications that dealing with a set holiday allocation may be less stressful than a self-allocated one! An unlimited holidays scheme can benefit both sides, but it isn’t a cure-all.
If advocating for such a scheme, be prepared for some frank discussions.