Should We Eliminate Our Vacation Policy?

christmas tree new york city rockefeller centre

At The Business Insider, we currently have a standard vacation policy–a certain number of weeks a year. 

That said, for the past 15 years, I’ve never had any idea how much vacation I or my teammates have actually taken (going back to when I was working on Wall Street). 

I’ve taken some time off, of course, and I’ve worked remotely some, the way most of our team has.  I’ve let my teammates take as much time off as they’ve asked for without recording the days on some official log.  I’ve encouraged everyone to work intensely, efficiently, and effectively but also to make sure they’re creating a work-life balance they’re happy with (which many haven’t–including, sometimes, me).  The only thing I have been frustrated by is when folks disappear without arranging for their responsibilities to be covered while they’re away (because this screws the rest of us, as well as our readers and our clients).

In practice, therefore, our vacation policy seems to be “We’re all adults here, so take as much time as you want.  Just make sure you communicate clearly ahead of time and make sure your responsibilities are covered.  And, of course, make sure that you do a great job.”

That’s the way most effective executives and companies I know approach vacation.  Still, it was startling to be forwarded an email the other day written by a CEO who is taking the step of eliminating the normal concept of vacation:

I wanted to share a change in our vacation policy…  Starting January 1st, we will no longer have a defined number of vacation days.  Instead, you’ll be free to take vacation days as you desire, consistent of course with the timely completion of your responsibilities.  Before you go on vacation, you’ll also need to make sure other members are aware of your absence and that your responsibilities will be attended to in your absence.  We’re all adults here, and I assume that we are all working at ______ because we choose to be part of building a world-class company.  Therefore, we don’t need to track vacation days.  One consequence is that we will also no longer accrue for vacation days, so if you end up leaving the company in the middle of the year, you won’t get paid for unused vacation days, and there will be no year-to-year carryover of unused vacation days.

I made some inquiries, and it turns out that this decision was inspired by Netflix’s decision to eliminate its own vacation policy.  This decision is outlined in an amazing presentation on Netflix’s “culture” posted online (and below) by CEO Reed Hastings.  I’ll come back to other points in this presentation in future posts, but here’s the part on vacation:

Netflix Vacation 1
Netflix Vacation 2
Netflix Vacation 3
Netflix Vacation 4

So, what do you think?  Should we follow Netflix’s example and formalise what we’re already doing anyway? 

We don’t want to end up with an empty office all the time (though, if we do, folks probably won’t be satisfying the requirement that they do a great job–and we will have hired the wrong folks).  On the other hand, we don’t to encourage people to count the hours and minutes of vacation they are “owed” and treat the job like an annoying chore.  And the “no pay for accrued but untaken vacation days” will probably help encourage the great folks on our team to take as many days as they feel they need.

Thoughts?  Recommendations? 

More on this next week.  For now, it’s Christmas Eve and time for all of us–you, too, hopefully–to head off for some unofficial vacation. 

Merry Christmas!

Here’s Netflix’s presentation:


View more presentations from Reed Hastings.

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