At my company, the Business Insider, we have a standard vacation policy--a certain number of weeks a year. A company called Netflix thinks this is a bad idea.
What does Netflix think our vacation policy should be?
Let employees take as much vacation as they want.
Netflix's logic is as follows: We don't track hours worked, so why should we track vacation days? We should focus on what people get done, not how much they work.
This is certainly an intriguing idea.
And, truth be told, for the past 15 years, this is the unofficial policy I've always followed. I've never had any idea how much vacation I or my teammates have actually taken.
I've taken some time off, of course, and I've worked remotely some, the way most of my team has. I've let my teammates take as much time off as they've asked for without recording the days on an 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 hurts 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: We don't keep track unless you abuse it.
Still, the Netflix policy seems to be gaining traction. A couple of months ago, I was forwarded an email written by another CEO:
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 policy.
So, what do you think? Should we follow Netflix's example and formalize 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 people). 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 a 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.
I've asked some of our employees what they think, and most have recommended against doing away with the vacation policy entirely. They worry that they'll feel huge peer pressure to NEVER take vacation. And they also want to have a sense of what is "normal." Most have recommended instead the policy we're using now: Don't track unless someone's abusing it. So doing away with the policy entirely would probably come as a shock.