My thoughts on “unlimited vacation” policies

A “policy” can never perfectly implement an intent. This particular policy can be implemented for wildly different intents, hence its wildly different interpretations: lots of leave, a little leave, and stories of people not taking off in 3 years.

What do you WANT? Try writing that down instead. It’s hard. And really hard to get around the need for trust and leadership.

I usually try to implement a policy like this, but it works like this:

  • Intent: rested people do the best work. Happy families = happy employees. Happy employees = work from joy, rather than fear, which is always our best work. So rest up!
  • Intent B: Goals. We have OKRs for a reason. Get the goal done. Get your weekly rocks done. Weekly rocks done by 7pm on Thursday? See you Monday! Make sure the goals will be achieved.
  • Intent C: Life happens. Grief, pain, loss, injury, major disruption. We’ll figure it out! You take care of you.
  • Policy: You must take at least two weeks per year completely off. We will help you do this, and ensure that you do it. We encourage a couple big trips and several long weekends throughout the year. (And we all know your team and leaders arrange this anyways, no matter what the policy is. Here, though, it doesn’t have to be an open secret… cause it’s no secret!)

Such a thing requires capital T trust.

But this usually only works super well after 0-1 phase, and is harder to implement with operations (e.g. customer support) than projects (e.g. dev, marketing, etc). So you can try and fit a “policy” onto all these people, or you can do something else: help managers of various departments lead by example and manage the intent of the company, as it applies to their various types of work. That requires capital L leadership though and is hard to put into a “policy.”

P.S. One benefit of no formal vacation policy is not having to spend finance time account for leave, which is actually pretty costly!


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