Manager Freaks Out Over Unlimited Vacation | Respect In The Workplace

"Are they nuts?"

This was the comment made to me by a manager upon learning that his employer's senior leadership team was transitioning to an unlimited vacation policy.

This comment was followed by what this manager believed would be all of the reasons such a policy would fail.

"Do you trust your workers?", I asked.

"Yes", he answered.

"Do you respect your workers' professionalism and integrity?", I followed.

"Yes", he responded.

"Then what is the problem?", I ended with.

The problem was that despite the corporate rhetoric about trust and respect in the workplace, this manager neither trusted nor respected that his workers wouldn't abuse the system and make him look bad.

Both of these fears, however, were unnecessary and unfounded...


It should not be surprising that a forward-thinking approach to employee vacation time has its epicenter in the forward-thinking, cutting edge tech industry.

The idea for unlimited vacation time has largely resulted from a tremendous shift in how senior leadership of tech startups view employees and productivity.

The traditional perspective, that continues to be perpetuated, sees employees as resources whose contribution is to be used up until little marginal value is provided.

In exchange, employers begrudgingly allow employees to take a minimum amount of time to rest...gaining back just enough energy to enter this cycle once more.

Unlimited vacation, however, stems from senior leadership taking the perspective that their employees are assets...

Human assets.

And to get the most from their human assets, they must take steps to provide the conditions in which these assets are able to provide their greatest contribution.

Allowing employees to take as much time to rest as they need is one such way. 

But does it work?



When I suggest this type of policy to businesses that wish to see an improvement in employee engagement, loyalty, and productivity, it meets with instant resistance from managers.

This resistance is the result of FEAR - False Expectations Appearing Real.

The dominant false expectation is that, if given the opportunity, employees will take advantage of, or outright abuse, the system and the work won't get done.

What managers are really afraid of, however, is that they will no longer be able to control their workers.

They are afraid of this because they don't trust their workers.

Yet, if a manager can't trust his or her workers, whose problem is it?

It is 100% the manager's problem.

In most workplaces, 80%+ employees CAN be trusted...

So the manager needs to self-examine why he or she is unable to trust someone who is indeed trustworthy.

The problem lies in the 8 inches between the manager's ears.

If the perceived problem is that an employee has proven not to be trustworthy, the real problem still remains with the manager.

After all, why the hell is that untrustworthy employee still working there in the first place? 

It is the manager's job to create a team of workers that CAN be trusted.


In an article published in The Globe and Mail (March 9, 2016), the pros and cons of unlimited vacation were examined.

The article discusses the experience of a Silicon Valley startup's experience with this type of vacation policy.

What this company found was that, when give the option of unlimited vacation, its employees actually took LESS vacation time.

In fact, to get its employees to take time off, the company had to engage in a "paid-paid-leave" policy whereby employees were paid a premium to use vacation time.

Other companies in Canada, learning from those early adopters of unlimited vacation policies, have effectively avoided this counter-productive result and have introduced their unlimited vacation policies with a mandatory minimum.


In addition to being a strong indicator of the type of corporate culture young companies are creating, there are additional benefits to introducing unlimited vacation policies.

According to the Globe and Mail article, it is also a great way to assess an employee's commitment to their duties and dedication to the company.

Employees who show signs of taking excessive amounts of vacation at the expense of their work (or the work of others) probably aren't people that you want on your team.

Further, the article states that by forcing employees to take vacation time, it teaches the company how to operate without them.

One of the most overlooked sources of risk for knowledge-based businesses is the threat of losing a key, high performing, employee.

However, when they are away on vacation, the company must determine how to proceed without them, thereby mitigating this risk.


According to Kurtis McBride, CEO of Miovision Technologies in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada:

“Employers across the country are starting to trust their employees and not design their systems for the 1 per cent that might abuse the policy but the 99 per cent that are coming in with the best of intentions.”

This is the 2% Factor at work.

Similarly, Jeff Booth, the CEO and co-founder of Vancouver-based Technologies Inc., points out that:

“When you design systems to prevent abuse for the worst people, you’re actually hurting the best people.”

Mr. Booth goes on to say:

“When you trust people, they tend to trust you right back.”

And trust is the precursor of respect.


So, managers, stop freaking out if your company is talking about implementing an "unlimited vacation" policy.

Sure, you may have a few short-term hiccups but I encourage you to take the long-view of the game.

You will learn who your reliable, trust-worthy, performers are and which employees needs to be shown the door.

You will have employees who are able to produce more and better work with fewer errors because they aren't exhausted all of the time.

You will create a team that you can trust and employees who will perform without your constant attention.

And this is what will create the culture of respect that will keep you coming into work each day.

How can YOU create a culture based on trust and respect? Wishful thinking WON'T cut it. Your managers and workers need to learn a NEW set of skills. Start them down the right path with one of our one-day, onsite seminars.