What do we do about time-off?

time offYou may have realized by now how much I treasure my time-off and how little of it ever gets carried over to the next year. It should thus come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of the concept of ‘unlimited’ time-off. I think it is a fantastic idea and I derive great joy every time I hear of yet another organization adopting this trend.

The disgruntlement associated with time-off isn’t new. Innumerable surveys and research like this one has shown us repeatedly that employees rarely leverage time-off as originally intended and yet get annoyed when an organization decides to reduce available time-off.  Imagine the riot that would ensue if a smart organization decided to allocate time-off based on historic utilization of the benefit by an employee. If you’ve taken two weeks off per year since you’ve joined the organization, you get two weeks. If you’ve used two days, you get two days. After all, that’s how much time-off you’ve needed in the past. Why not? I think it is a swell idea except it is one that would never be approved and with good reason.

Therefore, while that idea may never fly, here is one that should. Unlimited time-off is now a necessity vs a trend. However, just putting in place a policy that allows for this is hardly enough. I’ve seen organizations say that they have an unlimited time-off policy and yet need multiple approvals for any leave beyond the 20-day mark. How is this any different from what exists today? In addition, these organizations allow managers to reserve the right to refuse time-off based on business requirements. No wonder employees are confused on how to best leverage this benefit and how it will affect their career. Few organizations have addressed this concern convincingly. Removing the limit on any kind of time-off requires a mind shift and needs as much attention as any change management initiative. Given that, we are terrible at any kind of change management, it’s only natural that we don’t get it right in the first attempt. Don’t let that stop you.

If unlimited time-off is a stretch, here are some things that you definitely must consider:

  1. Eliminate carry-over. If you haven’t utilized your leaves for the year, they lapse. No questions asked. Yes, time-off is a benefit but it is a benefit for limited period only. If the request for time-off has been submitted a reasonable period in advance, do not allow managers to reject.
  2. Time-off is not eligible for encashment. It isn’t something that can be replaced for a sum of money. It is a benefit that we expect employees to leverage. If they don’t, too bad. This isn’t a way to earn extra cash.

However, neither of these two will work if managers decide to stick their nose in and ask for a million justifications before approval. It needs to be a seamless process. One needs to understand the reason why time-off was instituted in the first place. Get down to the basics.

There is also something else I’ve discovered about breaks from work. They aren’t just rejuvenating but they go a long way in making me a better individual. I’ve grown more as a person when away from work than when stuck in a cubicle all day. Yes, work does make you grow but so does being stuck in a train station for two hours. If as a manager my team doesn’t utilize their time off, I’d be more worried than proud. Let’s do something about this, shall we?

Can I mention this great thing called unlimited time-off just once more? 😉


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