The Unlimited Holiday Policy is simply HR click-baitNatalie Lewis
Is this trend of the ‘Unlimited Holiday Policy’ simply click-bait for businesses?
“But surely an unlimited holiday policy is the company-benefit dream for employees?” I hear you ask!
No, in my experience and opinion, absolutely not!
Because the UK has a terrible presenteeism culture which makes employees feel guilty for taking time off. If employees are not given a specific number of days to take off in the year, they tend not to take much at all.
The concept of unlimited holiday is too vast for people to comprehend, plus the pressure to be present and productive simply has the opposite effect on employees’ desire to book leave. The concept creates anxiety of wondering how much holiday is ‘okay’ and also people feel guilty for potentially taking more time off than their colleagues. This creates the perfect storm for toxicity.
Through the research I’ve done, I’ve found that employees in companies that offer an unlimited holiday policy often only take around 20 days in a year. Firstly, this is a breach of the Working Time Regulations (these are the UK laws governing the minimum number of days that a full-time employee takes off and states a minimum of 5.6 weeks or 28 days must be taken). Secondly, 28 days in a year is the bare minimum a person needs and actually, isn’t enough these days to help prevent burn-out.
So, in companies offering unlimited holidays where the average number of days taken off is 20 – you can see how this is wholly inadequate to encourage good well-being practices.
Another issue arises where employees take loads of holiday and are therefore totally unproductive which leads to colleagues taking the burden, thereby creating resentment.
Outcome based working
Certain structures and ways of working are advantageous when considering offering unlimited holidays so that the practice actually works. In my experience, I’d recommend that a company needs to work on an outcomes basis rather than an activity basis for the unlimited holiday policy to work effectively. By having staff judged on output rather than their presence in the workplace, they can better judge how much time they can take off without it impacting their performance.
Outcome based performance goes against the traditional workplace cultures of having staff in the office Monday – Friday, 9am to 5pm. This is quite a mindset and practical shift for business owners and employees to get their heads around. It can be done but it comes with its own challenges.
From a recruitment perspective, yes, the idea of unlimited holidays is a great attractor but in all the companies I’ve worked with or have read about introducing the scheme, all of them have scrapped their unlimited holiday policy in favour for a more structured way of providing time off.
Alternative solutions to an unlimited holiday policy
If unlimited holidays is something you’re considering, I’d urge you to instead consider providing, for example, 35 days holiday (inclusive of bank holidays) and then ensuring staff take at least 1 week per quarter. Spreading holidays across the year forces staff to rest regularly. This is a much more effective way of managing holidays for staff and the business as well as helping to prevent burn-out. Always have a holiday policy that clearly explains your company’s holiday rules and how to book time off.