Unlimited time off with a side order of guilt


What would you rather have, unlimited vacation time with your laptop riding shotgun or a set amount of vacation time when you are seriously expected to be out of the office?


This article in the NY Times explores the situation at IBM. It seems like a simple question, set time or flexible time. But there are several other factors; the degree to which you can truly disconnect, peer pressure, examples set by senior leadership, a voluntary vacation tracking system, personal guilt. I personally think that the myth of the productive/responsible/willing-to-disconnect employee as the norm is a little silly; some will take advantage of the situation, some will feel guilty about taking time off and will work until they experience total burn-out (been there? Yeah, me too). IBM says they don’t know whether this policy results in people taking more or less time off (hmm, I’d be trying to figure that out), but do they really WANT people to take their vacation time? It sounds like a potentially generous offering, but if it results in people taking less time off, is it really?


I like something in the middle; some guaranteed vacation days (no laptops, please) plus the flexibility to be out of the office when you need to as long as your work is getting done (yay, more shoe shopping!). Having some set vacation days gives me a certain amount of time out of the office that I “should” take. I’m not saying that I always take all of them (I’m up to 4 weeks of vacation a year) but it’s definitely motivating to know they are floating around out there waiting for me to take them. It also gives me permission to *really* take them. No laptop, no checking the smart-phone. Don’t call me in case of recruiting emergency; I’m by the pool with a nice Chardonnay.


Here are some reader comments on the article.


PS: I’m currently planning a trip back to Chicago for my HS reunion and a fun shopping excursion to NYC with a friend (plus a Thanksgiving excursion to Arizona, including a football game). So I swear I’m doing a better job of practicing what I preach this year!

Comments (10)

  1. wine-oh says:

    I dunno… I think the idea of vacation is a reward for hard work. Id think people would abuse the system. I wonder what the productivity level is there…

    I took smaller vacations this summer in the form of long weekends. My rules for these trips were 1) have fun 2) eat and drink 3) no laptop or internet.

    I had to break rule 3 on my last trip to transfer $$$ to cover construction costs for something in my apt. I found a computer business  center at the hotel and made the transfer. My reward… a call the next day from the banks fraud dept telling me my account was frozen due to suspicious activity. They said a computer was used that wasnt part of the normal IP addresses that I use. "Hello, I was on vacation" I said. They didnt care… I had to go through a series of security questions (the SAT’s were easier). Finally I got my account turned back on and the money transferred. Dont blame them for not doing their job but it was annoying and I was unrelaxed when i was on vacation.

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, but you’ll be glad if your account is ever hacked.

  3. Writer-Editor says:

    These infringements on your personal time have become far too prevalent, and I’m just amazed at the number of people who answer email while on vacation.

    Really, I earn every hour of vacation time I get with the work I’ve done the rest of the year. Why are so many people so insecure that they’re willing to effectively give up this much-needed benefit?

    It’s really the same as throwing away a portion of your salary!

    When I’ve been forced to even just check in via voice mail, it’s taken me hours to fully forget and push aside the problems that interrupted my bliss. And when I say "forced," to check in, I mean it: I had a manager who insisted you call into voicemail each day, and routinely checked up on her vacationing subordinates by leaving messages with a thinly veiled request that required an answer to make sure you were checking in while you were at the beach.

    And yes, that ridiculous-boss behavior, coupled with many other issues, inspired me to find another job.

  4. Tim says:

    My company has this policy as well. And I will tell you, it’s always seemed to have the effect on people as IBM wished: "Wow, you guys don’t count sick days or vacation days? Woo hoo!"

    Do people take more time than usually given at a company? I think on average that the people here tend to respect the policy: as long as they get their work done and have "coverage" when they’re out, it’s fine. But I also think people aren’t taking 10 weeks vacation here.

    As a father whose wife works as well, I don’t know how we’d manage without a lenient day off policy. The kids get done at 3p, you get done at 5p. They get a week off for the holidays, you may get 2. They get 3 months off for the summer, you get 2 weeks. In a country where most families have two parents working, it’s a difficult juggling act.

    Some of this discussion, whether or not a boss makes you check your email and VM while you’re away, I think pertains to any company, not just the ones with no vacation policy.

    I worked for a Fortune 100 corporation many years back and my boss, the President, was always connected, wherever she went. In fact, she took a few family vacations with the CEO and the VPs. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? ("Hey, kids, here’s your cereal, the adults are going into the other room to talk numbers.")

    If your boss makes you check your email, tell them you’re going to someplace like King’s Canyon. It’s like Gilligan’s Island: No phones, no lights, no motorcars!

  5. James says:

    The security question reference reminded me of a big purchase a few years back, just after my dad moved to Houston (I’d come over for about two weeks to help get everything set up). Buying a load of things (including two TVs, so the total was into four figures) on credit card on a different continent obviously sounded every alarm bell in the system; the resulting security questions included "complete the following telephone number". No, not the previous home phone number; after a little thought, he worked out this was the switchboard number at his previous employer but one! Somewhat difficult to guess, I think…

  6. Dalton says:

    Everyday, I turn on my computer there is a lest a hundred email waiting for me.  I can’t imagine taking a vacation and riding shotgun with my "office" right beside me.  To me a vacation means that I have left world of work behind if only for a few days.  I want to leave all the gadgets behind, I’ll deal with the office when I get back.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Me too! Usually.

  8. Jason says:

    I view vacation as a necessity rather than a privilege. That’s why many countries (except the U.S) have laws requiring employers to give SOME vacation to employees.

    As a species we’ve advanced far enough so that we should be able to work, sustain a comfortable lifestyle and not make ourselves miserable doing it.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hmm, I’m not sure it has anything to do with the species.