Do unlimited vacation days work at keeping staff engaged? - Grey Ring - The Best Global IT Recruitment Agency

In the age of the great resignation, recruitment strategists can be excused for trying to find new, novel systems of candidate attraction. One of the more retro and risky strategies is offering unlimited, paid, time off.

In an effort to shore up company staff numbers, thousands of business leaders have tried, trialled and implemented new working arrangements, company perks and benefits systems that even 3 years ago would’ve been considered ludicrous, not affordable, or simply not professionally feasible.

For example:

  • Remote work as standard.
  • Hub and Spoke workplace systems.
  • Enterprise-wide mental health welfare reform.
  • The rise of Video Recruitment and Onboarding systems.
  • Above-average pay commitments.
  • Genuine efforts to reskill entire industries.

However, one of the more “risky” work reform strategies employers are putting in place is unlimited paid time off.


The story to date – from COVID-19 to 2022.

Across multiple industries, talent shortages are putting the stoppers on company growth.

These shortages are caused, in the main, by a complete about-face of an entire generation of workers in the wake of COVID-19. Long commutes, thankless jobs, aimless careers – during the pandemic anyone who felt like their work didn’t mean anything felt more emboldened than ever to quit and find a job that does mean something.

This exodus of workers from critical industries such as hospitality, leisure and retail, which was more or less reflected to a less intense degree across every industry, was the great resignation.

From the middle of 2020 and into 2021, employers were confronted with a choice – adapt or die. So many adapted – enter, unlimited leave: the new work perk designed to keep people happily employed.

But does it actually work at keeping people happy in their line of work?


What sort of “perks” do job seekers want in the age of remote work and inflation?

Before we head into the weeds of understanding unlimited time off, it’s worthwhile looking at the entire perk revolution in the wake of COVID–19. Confronted with a rapidly changing world, rapt with fear, with public places shut for months, socialising restricted and many hundreds of thousands falling ill, the average worker was confronted with a world-changing event that fundamentally reordered how we live, work and thrive.

Almost overnight, millions of workers realised that faced with this generationally defining moment and wondering what the future held, they actually didn’t like what they did. They felt taken advantage of, or their employer wasn’t doing enough to help them during the months of social distancing and confusing commuter commitments.

So, employers had to change the why in their employer value proposition. One of the biggest and most important asks from staff was “address work/life balance”. This is where unlimited vacation days made an immediate impact.


What exactly are “unlimited vacation days”?

“An unlimited vacation policy, also known as unlimited paid time off (PTO) or an open vacation policy, allows employees to take as many sick, personal, or vacation days as they want, as long as they complete all their work”.


Does this mean staff can take time off, any time, without notice?

No, it doesn’t. But in theory what the concept of unlimited paid time off gives is empowerment – for staff to take ownership of their workloads and understand they won’t be punished for taking time off to recoup, relax, spend time with family or simply ease back on untenable commitments.

However, the one caveat is as long as the work is done – as with every arrangement in work between employer and staff there has to be compromise. Not every member of a team can take a month off with a day’s notice, and not every team member can just sporadically take time off the same time as other people in the same role and not find adequate cover. There is give and take.


Pros of giving unlimited vacation days.

  • “The survey found that 62% of employees with unlimited PTO reported having a good balance with work and personal life, and 58% reported high satisfaction with their jobs”.
  • “Giving employees sufficient time off to relax and rejuvenate promotes more productivity…the flexibility of this option is what boosts productivity levels…Knowing that the vacation time is available on-demand, may encourage employees to feel more engaged the rest of the year”.
  • “Nielsen research shows employees who vacation are happier with their jobs, more engaged, and less likely to quit–or have a heart attack–than their non-vacationing peers”.

Cons of giving unlimited vacation days.

  • “Fear of judgement from others…If some people take a lot more days off than others, then that could cause some resentment amongst the team and make for a negative office culture that perhaps wasn’t there previously”.
  • “Fear of use…Because there is no contractually mandated number of days available, some employees end up taking less”.
  • “It may cause performance issues…Consistently operating with less people can put unnecessary pressure on those making up for the lack of support.”


The bottom line – does UTO work to keep staff engaged?

To a certain degree, yes. When correctly implemented it’s one of the most effective and novel ways to offer flexible work to a generation of people affected by the pandemic who are searching for meaningful work with great work/life balance.

However, it does take a bit of hands-on management and buy-in from all stakeholders to respect work colleagues and everyone’s time off – and if poorly implemented can result in completely disengaged, unhappy and bitter staff.

Make your choice wisely!

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