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Open Letter to Richard Branson: Does "unlimited vacation" policy work?


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Barry Enderwick spent over 10 years working for Netflix before leaving to build his own company. 

Notice how he describes the way many companies have misapplied Netflix's policy (taken from his piece, Why "unlimited vacation" ≠ no vacation policy"):

I feel it necessary to re-visit the core reasons behind [the Netflix "no vacation" policy] and why it may not be working for some businesses. Mainly because it shouldn't exist. At least not in the form in which companies are implementing it. 
...Sure enough, companies started to copy it calling it the "unlimited vacation" policy. That re-naming is telling, because it signals a lack of understanding of what the "no vacation policy" really is and how it came about. 
The policy (or lack thereof) wasn't born out of wanting to give a great perk to employees in effort to bolster recruiting or talent retention. It was a natural outcome of company culture...You are treated like an adult and expected to act like an adult. So, if you hire the best people you can, trust that they will do the best job they can, why would you create processes and policies that distract them from the job at-hand? 

If you go back to the ultra-famous Netflix culture deck, you'll see that the "no vacation policy" makes perfect sense--when considering the context. I sincerely believe you had this big picture in mind while developing your own strategy.

But of course, the Netflix way of doing things won't work for most companies

I have a friend who works for a publicly traded company that has an "unlimited vacation" policy. He told me that when he dared to take a few days off -- that he 100% deserved! -- a product manager lodged a complaint because s/he assumed it was a selfish vacation. I was also recently informed by a CEO that he had a pretty strict "use it or lose it" vacation policy because there is a lot of evidence that unlimited vacations actually lead to LESS vacation time being used. This CEO very much wanted every vacation day to be taken every year, and he has found that having a hard limit makes the situation much more transparent to your coworkers -- which is a very important factor in team cohesion!

That's good to know and it makes a lot of sense, Joyce.

Mistakes and "failures" are opportunities to learn. They make us--and our companies--better in the long run.

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