One of the benefits of working at SpareFoot is our no-policy vacation policy. In other words, if someone wants to take time off, he or she doesn’t have to seek permission or to religiously track that time against a quota. We trust employees to get their work done—and to not unduly burden colleagues who are still at the office.
At SpareFoot, we put the no-policy vacation policy in place to avoid all the B.S. associated with old-school vacation policies. This makes the team happy, and it helps attract prospective employees. And contrary to conventional wisdom, our no-policy vacation policy is infrequently abused.
SpareFoot is among a growing number of companies that offer unlimited vacation to employees, including HubSpot, Motley Fool and Netflix. This is pretty progressive approach, considering that the U.S. is the only one of 21 well-off countries that doesn’t require employers to provide paid vacation time, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“We should focus on what people get done, not on how many days worked,” Netflix says. “Just as we don’t have a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday policy, we don’t need a vacation policy. There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked. Lesson: You don’t need policies for everything.”
At SpareFoot, we certainly don’t need a vacation policy.
The people at SpareFoot work extremely hard and deserve to take time off whenever they want—as long as they’re responsible about it. The vacation police aren’t patrolling the halls of SpareFoot.
But some critics maintain that employers do need to enact vacation policies. Here’s the Christian Science Monitor’s take on the issue:
“In a highly competitive, workaholic atmosphere, and without some guidelines as to what is normal or expected, employees may feel guilty about taking off any time at all. Are they slackers if they take two weeks? Three? Four? What’s appropriate? Will others who take less vacation, or no vacation, be viewed more favorably?”
Here at SpareFoot, no one feels guilty about taking time off. And since we don’t rigidly track vacation time against a quota, no one has a laser focus on who’s taken two weeks off versus who’s taken four weeks off. It just doesn’t matter.
I agree with Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and chief technology officer at HubSpot, who recently wrote in the New York Times:
“I’d rather have my most talented employees working on innovations that improve my company’s core business than spending valuable time and energy micromanaging their vacation time to fit an archaic policy.”
The workplace of the 21st century continues to evolve, as more people work remotely or work outside-the-box hours. Innovations can be born in the office or outside the office, at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m. So why not give employees the freedom to work, to think—and to relax—on a flexible schedule?
As it relates to vacation time, inflexibility breeds frustration.
A 2012 survey by career website CareerBuilder found that 35 percent of full-time workers didn’t plan, for a variety of reasons, to take vacation that year. Furthermore, 15 percent had given up vacation days in 2011 because they couldn’t carve out the time to use them. Those vacation-deprived employees must be pretty frustrated.
Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, said in a news release announcing the survey results: “Workers who maximize vacation time are less likely to burn out and more likely to maintain productivity levels. Heavy workloads and financial constraints can make it difficult to get away from work, but even if you’re not traveling far from home, a few days away can have a very positive impact on your health and happiness.”
By offering unlimited vacation, companies like SpareFoot remove the notion that employees can’t find the time to get away.
If you give people plenty of autonomy and expect them to perform based on the expectations that you set, they won’t need to have their hands held or to be told when they can or can’t take time off. It’s the grown-up way to do things in the workplace.
Chuck Gordon, 26, is co-founder and CEO of SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that runs the country’s largest online marketplace for self-storage.
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