Viewpoint: Employees Should Get Unlimited Vacation

Traditional vacation policies don't reflect the needs and demands of a modern global workforce, argues the chief technology officer and co-founder of HubSpot

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Vacations, by design, are supposed to be a time to relax, rejuvenate and reconnect with your favorite places, people or activities. And yet the process of requesting, approving and tracking vacation at most companies worldwide is anything but relaxing. The system is archaic: employees at all levels “earn” days off by working, regardless of whether they are working 80-hour weeks or 30-hour weeks. After accruing enough vacation to take “time off,” employees either take days off every chance they get, hoard it so that they get a check at the end of their company tenure, or hurry to use vacation days before they expire at the end of the year. Does any of that sound relaxing to you? Me neither.

Over the past few years, the way in which people live and work has changed fundamentally. Employees check e-mail on their smartphones, collaborate on documents from home and complete many of their daily tasks in the cloud. But the vast majority of vacation policies are more like The Flintstones than The Jetsons: they simply don’t reflect the needs and demands of a modern global workforce.

(MORE: Does Listening to Music While Working Make You Less Productive?)

Our company, HubSpot, does vacation differently. We expect everyone who works here to deliver remarkable results. In return, we offer all our employees, at every level, unlimited vacation and the autonomy to determine when, where and how they take it. This is not an experiment; it’s a long-standing policy built into a broader commitment to our company culture. The truth is that if you hire people who love their work and understand the mission and vision of your company, banking, tracking and paying out unused vacation become a massive waste of time and money. We devote that time, energy and money to our customers, and our company is better off for it.

I’m often asked whether our employees end up taking more or less days than more-traditional companies. We don’t know, because we literally don’t track it. What we do know is that our employees value being able to take last-minute three-day weekends or head out early after handing in a big project and not needing special permission or prior approval to do so. For those of you concerned that HubSpot employees are always on a beach somewhere, I can assure you that’s not the case. By not prescribing when they need to be in the office, we get employees who build their work around their families, hobbies and interests, and we empower them to manage their time to align with their life.

(MORE: Workplace Woes: The ‘Open Office’ Is a Hotbed of Stress)

The potential downside of our policy is that individuals who can work anytime, anywhere will feel that they can’t break away from the rapid pace of a fast-growing company. We address that concern in two ways: First, we hold managers accountable by getting quarterly feedback to ensure employees are getting enough time off. Second, we as executives set the tone with our own behavior. I’m well known for working late into the night and almost never showing up before 11 a.m., while my co-founder is well known for building his schedule around his beloved Red Sox. We are replacing the adversarial relationship between work and life with a collaborative one. Our employees get to optimize their time off in a manner that works for them. We just provide them with the freedom to do so.

25 comments
ShivbhadraGohil
ShivbhadraGohil

I strongly believe that some kind of jobs requires this kind of unlimited vacation.

emphasizedesign
emphasizedesign

SO cool to learn from such progressive companies such as @HubSpot . As an inbound marketing agency in Calgary, AB and HubSpot VAR, we (@EmphasizeDesign ) aim to be as innovative and progressive as HubSpot in our value offering and our business structure / culture. We are relatively small right now so it's hard to give our people "unlimited holidays", but they certainly have the freedom to take holidays whenever they see as long as their work is done. As mentioned in the article, we employ people based on results, so we allow our valued team to take the time they need for LIFE as long as they are providing value to our clients. Our team seems to love the flexibility and as a result we have an inspired team that produces remarkable work. 

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Bravo, HubSpot!!!

More companies need to follow your business model!!!

Tiffany5636
Tiffany5636

Everybody needs and deserves just enough rest. Too much of everything is not good.

coloradobob1976
coloradobob1976


They already have this where I live. Its called "unemployment". At either end of the economy resides a leisure class. Is the author even remotely aware of the world around him?

markrmulligan
markrmulligan

I once worked for a dot com start up and the culture there was workaholic and extremely competitive. One young woman committed suicide.

benzschoen
benzschoen

Viewpoint: Employees Should Get Unlimited Vacation: Hear, hear! And unlimited pay also. What a wonderful idea, when they take off this straightjacket and let me use something sharp I will certainly pen a memo to that affect.

LittleDog
LittleDog

There are really two types of work:  project-oriented work that is working towards a large deadline or goal, and process-oriented work that is more oriented on what you do day-to-day than progress towards a large goal.  Software developers, large project engineers (as opposed to consulting engineers), architects, and a number of the "information economy" professions work like the former.  Answering phones, assembling widgets, waiting tables, seeing patients, and the like work like the latter.  Only project-oriented work can use this vacation paradigm effectively. 

I worked for a company that had a policy like this for a number of years.  It also had a "work when you want, as long as you get the work done" policy.  I think I took less vacation and worked longer hours then than I did at later companies with set hours and vacation time.

justanotherguy
justanotherguy

We at Juniper Networks recently switched to the same policy and I for one like it a lot. But I do agree with some of the comments here that it might not be a viable option for "all" sorts of companies. With hightech firms it seems easier to implement and get the desired benefits out of the program.

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

I don't ever want to see his become the norm because for the vast majority of workers it would become a nightmare.

Census is low at the hospital? Call the full time nurses and inform them the have 1 week a month of unpaid mandatory "vacation"

The assembly line is slow due to low volume?  Why furlough workers for a month which would allow them to collect unemployment?? Instead give them all a month of mandatory unpaid vacation.

Thats annoying man/women/white/black/hispanic/old person/ beardedhippie/ rightwinger/ catholic/jew/muslim/ annoying the heck outa of you by not conforming to what you deem as acceptable?  Why risk getting hauled into court for wrongful termination lawsuit them when you can send them on vacation at a whim until they just quit.

merubin75
merubin75

I applaud Mr. Shah for taking a sensible approach to productivity in the modern world. Bravo, sir!

For those who have commented here about how it wouldn't work in their office or profession, I would politely urge you to reconsider. Everything looks difficult in the beginning. Instead of spending time and energy explaining why it wouldn't work for you, why not use channel hat energy into figuring how it could work? There are always solutions, and to ignore them seems rather short-sighted.

Lastly, for those who say that only high-tech companies can switch to this model, I politely urge you to think again. In his book "The Seven Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works," Ricardo Semler explained how he transformed his industrial company (as Old School as you can get) using a model similar to the one Mr. Shah implemented at HubSpot.

Fillybuster2
Fillybuster2

In a company, staffed by professionals, this system could work very well. Technology has enabled this by limiting the need for support staff and enabling communication of all types between employees and with customers. The world within which Shah’s company operates needs high levels of creativity which doesn’t occur on demand. And a more relaxed attitude towards time off may facilitate creativity, among other things.

However, many if not most, workers today provide direct services to the public. This includes government workers (police, fire, courts, agency srervices, etc.), food services (groceries, fast food, etc.), utilities and so forth.  They require staffing, sometimes 24/7, at specified times and cannot be so casual with time off.

Employee productivity and retention requires that industries match leave policies to staffing needs within their industry, while also being as lienient as possible about time off enabling employees to have a good work/life balance.

DaveConklin
DaveConklin

@dharmesh So, we launched our company, RankPop, with this "unlimited model.  I'm still not sure I'm totally comfortable with this "unlimited vacation" model.  We have a firm with a regular accruable vacation as well.

I'm finding that even quality employees in departements outside of tech don't always understand what it means to make sure that the work is always done.  More than a year ago, for example, we had a CS team member (who is no longer with us) take off for their wedding, which is completely appropriate.  However, our "unlimited vacation" model required him to make sure that he set up everything so no balls would be dropped.  This didn't happen.  Instead, he went away and customers were not handled appropriately.  

Some would say that's a job for us as leadership to take care of, but I look at it like it's a trade off for the "unlimited vacation.  Paying someone for going out of town 3 weeks after they start and paying them for that time is a fair trade off for them to make sure everything is taken care of when they head out of town.

My 2 cents.


ewing.mfa
ewing.mfa

What a silly article. Here is a man with a vision of the world so narrow that he believes the entire world is identical to his tiny company. Can supermarket checkers work from the beach? Can receptionists? For that matter, can CEOs who interact hourly and spontaneously with their executive staff? A small start-up technology firm that has been in business for only 7 years is surely not a model to hold up to the rest of the business world. Doing so is either a sign of arrogance or ignorance ... perhaps both. Just a bit silly.

hyrule5
hyrule5

@coloradobob1976 He owns a business. I think he knows a thing or two about the world around him. Also, "leisure class" is a funny term for the unemployed. I have to wonder if unemployed people find it luxurious enough to call it that.

merubin75
merubin75

@markrmulligan I'm not sure what your point is here. Are you trying to say that by extension, all dot-coms are extremely competitive, have workaholics, and will lead to suicide?

My dot-com experiences (two of them) were hard work but also a lot of fun. They were full of bright, energetic, and hard-working people.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@SwiftrightRight You assume the employee has no say in this kind of program.  What you describe is fairly typical of how struggling businesses that don't want to lay off people these days.  Mandatory time off: unpaid.  That's not what this guy's program does or is all about.

In the program described in the article, they're not hourly workers.  They're salaried.  They're expected to do the job that's required of them.  If there's nothing for them to do, they can stay home.  If they need time off, they can take it, as long as the job gets done.  They get paid either way.  The notion is that they actually LIKE WHAT THEY DO, and want to do it, so will work to make sure the job is done on time.

It might not work for all businesses, but collaborative employee/management programs have proven to be extremely effective in employee retention and productivity overall, REGARDLESS of the business.  This particular kind of vacation/time off approach may not fit all businesses.  But if you give your employees a real, respected voice in how the business is run, they're more invested emotionally in it and will do a better job overall.

What you described is already happening at companies who treat employees as wage slaves and adversaries instead of valuable assets to the company.  That kind of thinking needs to change.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@DaveConklin I worked once for a company where you could take off only when everything was taken care of.  What a joke.  If you can do the work in advance, or have someone cover for you, then how efficient are you in your job now, or are there too many employees?  If your co workers are fully employed, they can't help you, nor you them.  Sure, maybe you can do an 80 hour week before and after vacation, that is what I ended up doing, and that really was 5hit.  Reality is that if you are properly staffed someone going on vacation, or being ill, will create real pressures because you don't have redundant employees.  From what I see, only giant companies and government (also giant companies) have redundancy, and we know how inefficient they are!  I suppose there are also some firms that operate somewhat on project management schedules that have a beginning and end, but that does not describe all that many businesses. 

My other thought:  don't go too long; they might realize they can get along without you!

arhianrod
arhianrod

@ewing.mfa I more or less agree.  I work in a small medical office.  There is no way we can have employees taking off whenever they want to.   It wouldn't work and patiet care would suffer.  I think it would be nice to offer more vacation days.   I think that is something we are looking in to.  

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@hyrule5@coloradobob1976

  1. Reading is fundamental.  
  2. Reading comprehension is vital.  
Bob SAID "AT THE OTHER END OF THE ECONOMY" which meant at the other side of the economy from where he stands, "resides a leisure class".  One must at least pay attention to what the person they THINK they're skewering has actually said before posting.  It helps them avoid making a fool of one's self in such a grand public fashion as you did.

Most people actually got the nuance Bob was talking about, which you apparently missed entirely.  I believe they have adult education classes for remedial reading and comprehension skills.  Were I you, I'd avail myself of them.

And keep in mind, that knowing something about how people actually work is much more important to running a successful business than knowing  how the world works.  Treat your employees well instead of like wage slaves and you'll probably have a good business.  This guy does.  But with the organized union busting going on in the U.S., I don't see most of the rest of corporate America suddenly deciding to be human to their employees anytime soon.

markrmulligan
markrmulligan

@merubin75 @markrmulligan Thanks for your comment. I wouldn't say all dot-coms, or all anything else, are one thing or another, but perhaps my point is that we need to be mindful of a company's culture.Things aren't always what they seem.

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

@DeweySayenoff @SwiftrightRight I fully agree that in a perfect world its a great idea. And Im sure that  companies like Valve could pull it off.

What concerns me is the vast majority of American companies who have already declared open seasons on the work force.

timhood
timhood

@DeweySayenoff @hyrule5 @coloradobob1976

Reading is fundamental, huh? I enjoyed how you attacked the previous comment even though you are the one who has failed to read and comprehend. Bob did not say, "AT THE OTHER END OF THE ECONOMY" (your emphasis added). He said, "AT EITHER END OF THE ECONOMY" (my emphasis added). Therefore, Bob refers to both the most wealthy and most poor (and by lead in, unemployed) as a "leisure class."
Don't you feel especially foolish now?

merubin75
merubin75

Ah, I see your point. You're absolutely right, and I agree with you.