Unlimited Vacation & Parental Leave – It’s Good to Be In the 1%

unlimited parental leave, joshua earle
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There’s been a lot of buzz lately about unlimited vacation and parental leave. On August 4th, 2015 Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer, Tawni Cranz announced a new unlimited leave policy for new moms and dads during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

The company I work for, a la mode technologies recently announced a four-day workweek, as well as unlimited vacation and parental leave. The local newspaper published a feature story on the front page of their business section, and the morning after the story broke, a TV news anchor and camera crew literally came knocking on our door to find out if we were too good to be true.

We’re not as famous as Netflix, but in many ways our story is even more newsworthy. When it comes to progressive employee benefits we’re in rarified territory.

According to SHRM’s 2014 Employee Benefits research report, of organizations surveyed, “1% provided their employees with unlimited PTO (Paid Time Off)…” and “…less than one percent provided their employees with unlimited paid vacation time.”

Unlimited vacation and parental leave is still in the experimental stage, but the concept is gaining traction and shows promise for creative-project and results-driven organizations.

It’s About Time

The lines between “work” and “personal time” have been blurred for decades. Yet, most companies still operate like factories, counting the number of hours employees sit in an office and restricting the uninterrupted time those employees spend with their family and friends.

But, we are no longer laboring in the industrial age. Knowledge workers, such as software developers and marketing content writers don’t punch a clock. A dwindling number of modern companies measure output or production by how many hours a person sits or stands at a task in a central geographical location.

Creative knowledge workers have been returning emails and joining conference calls on their weekends and vacations for many years. Brainstorms in the middle of the night often won’t wait until morning, so a whole lot of software code, ad copy and press releases are created during “personal time” away from the office.

And, when project owners require work-product, they don’t really need to know how many hours an employee will be sitting at their desk. They need to know when the product will be delivered.

How the producer of that product spends their time between the order date and the delivery date is irrelevant. What matters is the quality of the results. Lazy managers often don’t like to acknowledge this reality because it requires them to provide better specifications.

Competition Is Heating Up

A growing skills-gap has converged with an aggressive investment environment to produce a candidate-driven labor market veteran human resource practitioners haven’t seen in decades. And, most thirty-something professionals have never experienced anything like it.

As companies compete for the best and the brightest talent, progressive companies are realizing that trusting professionals to do the right thing is a good strategy.

Assuming employees won’t abuse a flexible vacation and leave policy is an experimental gamble. But, the theory behind the company’s risk and investment is that engaged professionals are worthy of trust.

It’s Time to Grow Up

Jake Gibson, co-founder of NerdWallet said it best: “Old vacation policies essentially ‘parent’ employees: They are a carrot to be earned by company longevity and a stick to spank workers if they misbehave. That kind of thinking has to go.”

Ultimately, unlimited vacation and leave is about trust. Even though today’s talent market has been tilted away from the employer and toward the employee, it can be rebalanced with trust.

Trusting employees to make good decisions about their personal time engenders a rebalanced business-partner relationship, rather than perpetuating the old industrial age parent-child model.

To successfully compete in today’s talent market, you must show creative people you value their time as much as they do and trust them as much as you want them to trust you.

We Still Have to Pay the Bills

Ultimately, the basic economic laws of profit and loss bind most companies. As Gravity Payments’ Dan Price discovered, most of these progressive talent benefit policies are experiments and trials with unforeseen verdicts.

I know we will never let unsuccessful policies take our company down along with hundreds of families who depend on its jobs. And, I’m confident we will successfully compete for the best and brightest talent the market has to offer.

Precisely how we navigate that challenge and what ultimately becomes the new standard in talent benefits has yet to emerge. We will take action, experiment and adjust appropriately to remain profitable.

But, I do know employee engagement centered on corporate empathy and trust is a profit strategy whose time has come. There’s no turning the clock back on that reality.

Successful companies understand they get the best work out of engaged employees, regardless of which side of the negotiating table the talent market is tipping. And, flexible personal time is a critical key to increased employee engagement.


Photo credit: Joshua Earle

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