UNLIMITED TIME OFF

OPINION
By KLAUS DORING
January 20, 2020

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Critics say giving workers unlimited time off can actually deter them from taking holidays - so are minimum leave policies the answer? An interesting question by BBC-author Maya Yang... .

It reminds me on my own. For example, I decided to stop teaching. I found out, that from month to month, I really got only very limited time for myself and my family.

In 2014, the leadership at social media management company Buffer noticed something odd. Despite an unlimited leave policy implemented in 2012, employees were barely taking any holidays.

To encourage people to take more time off, Buffer – which employs remote workers globally, primarily in the US and Europe – introduced an incentive: a $1,000 annual holiday bonus to each employee (and an additional $500 per partner or family member). It was a roaring success. In fact, it was too successful, costing the company too much money. Buffer pulled the plug on the policy in June 2016.

Later that year, Buffer changed tack: instead of offering unlimited leave, it decided to strongly encourage employees to take a minimum of 15 work days off per year. Using an online planner, employees input leave requests and HR personnel track the number of days people take off via a collective calendar.

Buffer’s minimum leave policy is unusual, even for a tech company. Unlimited time off is a much more common perk among start-ups and other tech firms – but despite the name, unlimited leave can feel like anything but. Often, workers are at the mercy of their workloads, managers and company culture, a situation which can discourage people to take a fair amount of leave.

Could insisting that people take a minimum number of days off be a better way to ward off burnout? Well, maybe. Talking again myself: I am in the great situation deciding about my days off and and a maybe unlimited time off. Just to avoid a burnout... . How about millions of Filipino workers?

It's interesting to know, that  every country in the European Union is required by law to offer at least four weeks of paid holiday, with varying accrual policies per country (Austria takes the lead with 35 days of annual paid holiday). Similarly, in New Zealand, employers must provide employees with at least four weeks of paid holiday, not including public holidays or sick leave. Philippines is much more different. Yes, I know... .

While still staying in Germany, I had the pressure of needing to prove myself and the mentality that I shouldn’t take many days off. Most often, it’s up to management to create a culture where workers feel comfortable taking leave, says Sir Cary Cooper, an organisational psychology professor at the University of Manchester. Many bosses lack the social and perceptive skills to detect employee burnout and remind ambitious employees of the importance of taking breaks.

Creating choices? Why not. While minimum leave policies don’t operate solely on ‘trust’ placed in employees, it’s not a model that is feasible for all companies – for those with tens of thousands of employees, tracking individual and collective leave, let alone scheduling individual holiday check-ins and reminders, would be very difficult to scale.

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Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.koausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com. 

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