Imagine everyone coming into work when it works for them--and not when it doesn't. In such a scenario, employees at all levels could decide whether they felt like taking a few hours off each day, or taking an entire month (or more) off depending on what's happening in their lives. Is this vision utopian, or the wave of the future?
The answer may be the latter, judging by the recent announcement of Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group, of a "non-policy" for paid time off. This decision means that all of Branson's employees in the company's main offices in the U.S. and the U.K. now have open-ended access to vacation time.
The news from Branson has caused an explosion of interest from the media and social networks, revealing the not-so-hidden truth that nearly everyone is looking for ways to improve work-life balance. An article last month in Forbes reported that, contrary to common perception, the majority of Americans actually don't aspire to leadership positions. A recent study conducted by the Harris Poll found that one-third of respondents decided to steer clear of the leadership track to avoid further diminishing their personal time.
Since having time for life outside the office is an increasingly high priority to workers in every industry, other company founders would be wise to take a page from the vacation non-policy book of Branson and other pioneers of this approach (which according to Businessweek comprise only around 1 percent of all companies). Branson got the idea from Netflix, another early adopter of the vacation non-policy, along with several other tech firms like Zynga, Groupon, Evernote, VMware, Eventbrite, and HubSpot.
I'm proud to say that at Pluralsight, we too have this same non-policy as part of our culture. While we previously relied on a traditional PTO policy, we killed it because we felt it was awkward and unnecessary for employees to have to ask a manager for permission to take time off. We don't clock people in and out each day, so why should we track their days off? Like the other non-policy 1 percenters, all we ask is that each person coordinate his or her chosen exits with team members so that the group can continue to move forward when someone is out.
Here are three reasons why we think people actually get more done when they have open-ended access to vacation time:
It makes employees less anxious. We feel that taking too little time off is just as damaging as taking too much. We all need to occasionally recharge and reconnect with loved ones, and sometimes life throws us a curveball that doesn't fit within a two-week vacation. One of our employees recently got very ill and had to undergo major surgery. Having an open-ended PTO policy eliminated his stress and anxiety about burning through all of his "vacation time" for an illness, and allowed him to focus on getting better.
Special circumstances like these emphasize the point that the right amount of days off for each person will vary from year to year based on circumstances. An open policy makes it possible to accommodate individual needs as they arise. Periodically, too, we should all be able to relax and take a well-deserved break for no good reason--even (or sometimes especially) if we've run out of our fixed number of vacation days.
It implies trust, which breeds responsibility. We've been talking about our open-ended PTO policy for a while, and whenever we do, the same questions arise: Don't employees take advantage of the company by taking too much time off, damaging business results? How do we keep people in the office if they have a blank check to stay home or vacation as much as they want?
The answers to these questions may surprise you, but they make sense. If you've hired the right people and trust them to manage their own calendars, they won't abuse the non-policy. In fact, most will likely take less time off than if you had a formal policy that provided a limited amount of PTO. With freedom comes great responsibility, and our employees are living proof of this principle. We actually believe that encouraging everyone to take enough vacation is more of a burden on leadership than worrying about people taking too much.
It makes people happier and want to work harder. Our faith that people won't abuse the policy goes back to our culture, which includes only two basic rules. Rule 1 is to be respectful, considerate, and kind even when you disagree. Rule 2 is to always act in Pluralsight's best interests. With a company-wide commitment to Rule 2, we have no need to monitor vacation days. Since employees are committed to doing right by the company, we've found that our non-policy actually increases productivity. This is because in addition to being very thoughtful about their workload versus vacation time, when employees do decide to take time off, they work even harder beforehand to make sure that they're not leaving team members in the lurch.
While the organization as a whole certainly benefits from these realities, we didn't stop tracking time off to reduce the amount of leave people take. On the contrary, we feel it's critically important to everyone's health and well-being to take enough time off to truly disconnect, do what they want to do, and take care of important matters in their lives outside of the workplace. The simple truth is that by letting go of managing this function corporately, our open PTO policy creates happier workers who find more inspiration for their jobs, and who truly want to do what's best for the company over time.