Our company, HubSpot, was founded on the notion that the traditional marketing and sales playbook is broken, and that organizations need to rethink the way they market and sell to match how humans shop and buy. While our founders were advocating for an alternative way to market and sell, they realized something else: the way in which people live and work had fundamentally changed too, yet most companies were still operating in the dark ages.
Specifically, the early days of HubSpot, like many fast-growing companies, required a fair amount of hard work. One of our engineers had worked tirelessly over a weekend to ship a major project, and on Monday morning handed our CEO, Brian Halligan, a permission slip to head out early for a friend’s wedding the following Friday. Halligan obliged, but was struck by the fact that the engineer got no “credit” for the hours he logged throughout the weekend, and that the very notion that fully formed adults needed permission to leave the office was outdated. The interchange served as the catalyst for HubSpot’s unlimited vacation policy, which has been in place formally since 2010.
Because unlimited vacation is still relatively unusual in the corporate world, our team gets a lot of questions about what it’s actually like and whether anyone shows up for work on a regular basis (spoiler alert: they do!), so below is an overview of what it’s actually like to have unlimited vacation at work on a daily basis.
1. People do actually show up for work
The key ingredient to an unlimited vacation policy has nothing to do with the policy itself and everything to do with creating a workplace and compelling work that top-tier employees actually want to do. We think of our recipe for success on the talent side as attracting remarkable people and giving them the autonomy to be awesome, and unlimited vacation is just one ingredient in that recipe. The truth of the matter is, if you don’t attract the type of people who think like founders, who care about your business, and who truly want to deliver work that has an impact, an unlimited vacation policy likely won’t be effective. As a result, my first piece of advice to anyone considering an unlimited vacation policy is to create a truly remarkable environment for people to work--doing so ensures that people will, at least on occasion, choose work over their respective vacation destination of choice, and that’s a win for everyone involved.
2. Conditional employee autonomy doesn’t work
Let’s say for example that you’re considering revamping your vacation policy, but your IT organization doesn’t provide people with laptops or access to your core systems from employee mobile devices. Or that your company requires an act of God to work from home one day per week. Or that you monitor employee snack consumption to the Skittle. If any of those hypothetical statements are true, an unlimited vacation policy is not likely to work--the reason ours does is because our entire work philosophy is predicated on the notion that people can work anytime, anywhere, and that we don’t police employee behavior on a daily basis. Vacation policies should be part of a broader commitment to how your employees should think about integrating their work with their lives, so it should be a microcosm of a broader approach, not an isolated variable.
3. People do actually use it
Often when I talk about unlimited vacation, a conspiracy theorist in the group I’m talking to will suggest that the policy is thinly veiled attempt to disincentivize employees from taking a vacation at all. This conspiracy, while juicy, doesn’t reflect reality. Last year, one of our employees traveled the world to see Justin Timberlake more than a dozen times in concert. One of our sales reps spent a full three weeks in Brazil for the World Cup, and countless others went on adventures of a lifetime using the policy. But equally as important and valuable to me is the fact that on a weekly basis, many of our working parents will leave the office early if their workload allows, or build their entire schedule around coaching a child’s Little League games. Unlimited vacation makes it significantly easier for employees to build their work around their life instead of having to squeeze their lives in around their work.
4. You have to lead by example
While we don’t track employee vacation time, we do track how happy employees are on a regular basis, and a few years ago, our COO, JD Sherman, noticed that some new folks to the team said they didn’t feel they could break away from their work and deliver results. Viewing the complaints as a leadership opportunity, JD crafted a company-wide post clarifying that the policy, while truly unlimited, was really “two weeks to infinity.” In other words, you must take more than two weeks vacation at HubSpot at an absolute bare minimum, and if you didn’t feel that you could or would empowered to do that, to email him directly to help you figure it out. In the last three months alone, both our CTO and VP of Services have placed their respective two week vacations on their monthly management reports as a top priority, alongside our SVP of Sales, who put a trip home to celebrate his son’s 13 year old birthday on the report as well. Simply put, our leaders make vacations a priority, and hold managers responsible for ensuring their team members can and do take time away from work to relax and recharge.
5. It can go global
One common refrain from larger companies for why they can’t do unlimited vacation is global rules and regulations. We proudly have fast-growing teams in Dublin, Ireland, and Sydney, Australia, and in both locations we’ve simply kept the policy the same but made accommodations for compliance with each jurisdiction. For example, in new markets, we make the legal requirement the minimum baseline, but team members in those locations are welcome and encouraged to go above and beyond that minimum so they enjoy the same benefits as employees in other locations.
Unlimited vacation makes for a lot of headlines because it’s a sexy idea that usually results in two extremes: the notion that our workplace is pure chaos because no one ever shows up or the notion that the policy itself is a conspiracy that and that no one can ever leave our offices. Neither extreme is accurate. To me, unlimited vacation has a whole lot less to do with counting days off and a whole lot more to do with the fact that we’ve abandoned the notion that your life ends when you arrive at work and vice versa. By encouraging employees to think about how their lives and work can fit together, we’re putting them in the driver’s seat to figure out what works for them. Doing so provides them (and HubSpot) with benefits that far outweigh permission slips and time tracking accuracy.