The Curse of Unlimited Time Off

Being American, on average, we get 10 vacation days per year. Generally that number increases as your tenure with your company increases. One of the benefits of sticking with one job for an extended period of time is the increased amount of vacation time that is supposed to come with being at a company for longer. Companies would ‘reward’ their employees loyalty with more time off. It also creates a disincentive for people to leave, even if they would potentially make more money elsewhere.

My current company, which I have now been with for 12 years, started me off with 10 days as well, however, as my tenure increased, that went to 16 days after 5 years, and was scheduled to go to 22 days last year, nearly an entire month in terms of work days, excluding weekends.

However, these policies are purely at the discretion of the company, and, as such, can be changed at any time. In my case, I should have gone from 16 to 22 days in January of 2021. However, initially, due to a bug in their HR software, I did not. I initially raised this issue with HR and at the time they said it was because of a discrepancy between the definition of a ‘year worked’ and a ‘year of service’, which the Paid Time Off definitions are based on.

Then, in February of 2021, the company made an announcement that Paid Time Off accrual was being done away with, and being replaced with a policy of ‘Unlimited Time Away’. Essentially saying that you can have as much time off as you want, so long as your work gets done. This sounds great on paper, however, our department has been short staffed for several years now, and with the Great Resignation now in full swing, that situation doesn’t seem to be resolving itself any time soon. So, with the current workload, how am I supposed to get any time off, yet alone, try to make up for the 22 days that I should have gotten, and I now feel have been stripped away from me at the last second.

Under the old system, I felt obliged to use my time off, even if it was just for days lounging around the house doing nothing. Getting out and seeing the world is important, however, so is just relaxing around the house. Additionally, having time a separate time to relax at home allows me more time to explore when I travel, which, although enjoyable, is not always relaxing, particularly given my style of travel which involves trying to hit up as many things as possible.

Unlimited Vacation Time may sound like a good idea, but it’s really dependent on realistic workloads and doesn’t reward staying at the company for long periods of time. As a result, for instance, I had my prior trip back to Illinois, where I ended up working out of a hotel room for half the time there, because, projects needed to be completed. A large chunk of that trip ended up not feeling like time off at all, rather, just working remotely from a different location.

Not Being a Slacker

Perhaps another issue is being raised with a mentality of ‘nobody likes a slacker’. This seems like a somewhat toxic attitude, that resulted in me working 60 hour weeks through my 20’s and I think now makes me hesitant to actually use the ‘Unlimited Time Away’.

Under the prior policy, I could take time away using a ‘use it or lose it’ approach and use it as a travel day, a mental health day, or a lounge around the house day, which is no longer a thing when time off is not something in a finite quantity. Now, I feel like I might be pulling my weight if I simply take more time off than my co workers, even if I would have been entitled to that time anyhow under the old system.

A Better Way

I generally agree, the American system of giving employees two weeks off to start does seem inadequate, perhaps a better way is to start them with 15 to 20 days, then scaling that up to say 30 days, or perhaps reward loyalty with bonuses rather than additional time off, hence you could continue to reward long term employees without pushing the newbies with a minimal amount of time off, with only the hope that they can work their way up the ladder.

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