The great debate on unlimited vacation policies rages on: Are they actually a work hell-trap disguised as a company perk?
INSIDER polled over a thousand people on SurveyMonkey Audience, asking workers about their company’s vacation policies and work habits. The poll found that 29% of American workers with unlimited paid time-off (PTO) policies said they “always” work on vacation.
Compared with respondents with traditional vacation plans, the numbers are bleak. Fifteen percent of respondents with vacation accrual plans said they “always” work on trips, and 37% said they “always” check their work email.
Respondents with unlimited PTO policies were also more likely to get sucked into work email on vacation, with 42% “always” logging in during time off.
Work-free vacations — especially long ones — are routinely found to be good for you, while the mere prospect of checking work email off-hours can do damage.
Art Markman, a psychology researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, told INSIDER that most companies should want you to take real time away from work: The time off is not only beneficial health-wise but is also associated with productivity and more creative thinking.
“If [firms] are serious about that, then they need to set a minimum amount of vacation that they expect people to take each year,” Markman said. Otherwise, workers are prone to taking less time off, and the vacations they do take can be less disconnected.
Unlimited paid time-off policies gained popularity in the mid-2010s after high-profile companies like Netflix adopted the policy. But preliminary research indicates they don’t actually encourage employees to take more vacations.
Namely, a human resources service provider used by INSIDER conducted a study in 2017 that found that people with unlimited PTO take an average of 13 days off per year — 2 days less than the average for people with traditional policies.
Without an established norm for taking a sufficient amount of vacation, you’re likely to keep working to avoid looking bad. No one wants their coworkers to think they’re lazy or apathetic, after all. Employees could be led to believe that taking less time off demonstrates the commitment to the firm or signifies that they’re hard workers when in reality, it just leaves them under-rested.
Unless bosses set the tone by visibly taking time off to show their employees that it’s okay to do so — or even mandating that people go on vacation — an unlimited vacation policy may end up doing more harm than good. The last thing any of us want is to remain trapped by American work culture, bound for burnout.
SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,176 respondents collected December 28 to December 29, 2018, a margin of error plus or minus 3.04 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.
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