Unlimited vacation policy: making it work

Unlimited vacation policies are not a new trend among tech startups. In fact, Lokalise is already a bit late to the party. But, that is not necessarily a bad thing…

The main concept behind an unlimited vacation policy is that there is no policy: employees can take as much paid time off as they need as long as they get the job done. However, there is an ongoing debate about whether this is an actual benefit or merely a marketing tool to attract new talent, which can become a curse for the team

Benefits of an unlimited vacation policy

People feel happier and more engaged 

Unlimited vacation policies are known to improve workplace culture: by introducing another layer of flexibility and removing formal boundaries related to days off, we are able to increase employee happiness and engagement – key elements for a highly productive team. 

Trust is reinforced 

Trust is the base of every healthy team. Having an unlimited policy sends the message that we trust our teammates to do the right thing, both for them and for the team, and act as company stakeholders (which they are).

Renewed sense of ownership

The policy provides flexibility, freedom, and empowerment. Teammates are encouraged to be results driven rather than schedule driven. This allows them to take control over their own time and achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Creating an inclusive environment

Different people have different needs, depending on their personalities, motivations, personal lives, and life goals. We want to be able to support these differences and create an inclusive environment. We want to make sure we allow each of our teammates to be productive in the way that works best for them. And, to be able to do that for everyone, we need to be flexible.

The ugly side of the unlimited vacation policy

“Maybe it’s not a good time.”

Particularly in fast-paced environments, it never feels like a good time to take some days off. Paradoxically, having an unlimited policy makes it easier to delay taking vacations because you can always take as much as you need, and you can always do it later.

Unclear expectations

Different managers have different perceptions of what should be an “acceptable” number of vacation days for their employees. When this is not clear, teammates might refrain from taking vacations, or even speaking about it, so as to not go against any unspoken rules.

Vacation guilt 

People tend to feel guilty about taking vacations, especially those with a very high level of commitment to their work. This is partly due to their hard-working mindset, and partly because being a successful professional is an intrinsic part of their identity.

The financial aspect

Another downside is the financial aspect linked to unlimited vacations. If employees choose to leave their companies, they aren’t compensated for unused vacation days, because there is no formal agreement on how many days off each teammate is entitled to use. 

What we decided to do at Lokalise

Of course, we would be happiest if we could enjoy the pros of the unlimited vacation policy, without its negative consequences.

We want an empowered, engaged team, we want to prioritize trust and increase productivity. However, frankly speaking, we cannot afford the cons – especially now that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, when everyone is isolated and burnout rates, across many industries, are through the roof. The last thing we want is to introduce a new policy that will negatively affect our team.

So, here’s what we did. We found inspiration in: 1) companies that offer unlimited vacation policies, and 2) companies that used to offer it, but changed their minds. We soaked up their learnings and created our own unlimited vacation policy, that will hopefully allow us to optimize the trade-off between risk and reward:

#1 We don’t have a defined maximum limit on vacation days, but we do have a defined minimum

To promote a healthy work-life balance, we have defined a minimum number of vacation days each teammate should take: at least 15 days per year. We urge them to share if they feel they are too busy to make this work and managers have an extra responsibility to make sure everyone takes enough vacation days. 

We also kept the financial aspect in mind. There is still an “official number” of vacation days each teammate can take, but it’s there just so that: if for any reason they happen to leave the company, they are properly compensated for unused vacation days. In addition, this can be a merit for some teammates who prefer having this defined official number so that they can take guilt-free vacations.

#2 National holidays and birthdays are automatic days off

Currently, Lokalise has teammates spread across 14 countries around the globe. With respect to different cultures and religions, national holidays are automatically considered to be days off – as are birthdays. Everyone should take them and they are excluded from the above-mentioned minimum 15 days off. 

The improvements we expect to see at Lokalise

This unlimited vacation policy is still new at Lokalise, so we will keep you updated on our learnings, as we see the effects of this new policy in our team. We are expecting to see:

  • A significant increase in overall engagement, ownership, and productivity
  • Almost no cases of burnout in the company

Generally, we also hope to see an overall shift in mindset. Fortunately, Lokalise is made up of incredibly hardworking teammates who are fully invested in our company’s success, and I couldn’t be more proud to work with our team. Nonetheless, not taking enough time off isn’t something we are happy to accept as a company. 

We will, instead, foster a collaborative environment and manage knowledge internally. This means we’ll have an amazing foundation of documentation that allows us to operate for relatively long periods of time, even when missing certain teammates, thus eliminating single points of failure.

It’s healthier, for each team member and for the company, to have the right setup that allows for regular vacations instead of losing people later, and permanently, due to burnouts. 

To conclude, we believe that although work is a truly significant and important part of our lives, we can be incredibly productive and still have plenty of time to spend with our loved ones, so we can do the things we like most. In the end, being successful at work and having a great work-life balance are not mutually exclusive concepts.

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