vacation and serenity

Unlimited vacation is not the answer

If there is one topic that gets people going at a networking kibbutz, it’s unlimited vacation. [Cue: halo, glowing background, angelic music].

Well, at least for the typical corporate worker, that’s what they think happens. In reality, the reactions that you get when you say those two words are: 

  1. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
  2. “That sounds amazing! I would never come to work.”
  3. “I love it! I could work hard and play harder!”
  4. “I would be too afraid to take too many days off. What if they were really counting?”
  5. “It’s a trick! They really are counting…”

In theory, unlimited vacation does sound great. Who wouldn’t want to take as much time off as they want, when they want? In reality, if everyone did that, collective organization and execution – aka, a successful company – simply won’t work.

However, the sentiment matters. What is a company to do to incentive maximal work productivity and also give their employees the time and space for maximal personal happiness and freedom? Working within the more common bounds, here are some are some concrete ideas:

  1. Genuine + thoughtful flexible work arrangements
  2. Genuine + thoughtful remote work arrangements
  3. Purchased vacations
  4. Company vacations
  5. Unlimited sabbaticals

In today’s post, we are going to look at just the first two: flexible and remote work arrangements.

Flexible work arrangements

Many companies already have flexible work arrangements (FWA) as part of their existing HR policies. FWAs can range from approaches such as job-sharing, part-time work, summer hours, extended hours, etc. However, the reason for putting “genuine + thoughtful” in front of this option was that despite policies, in practice, traditionalism gets in the way. Many managers do the following:

  1. Refuse to “consider” FWAs by commenting or implying the ‘impossibility’ of those working for their particular function
  2. Refuse to “approve” employee requests when they are brought before them
  3. Refuse to “support” FWAs by doing things such as calling employees on ‘off-hours’, randomly/ignoring agreements, and/or subconscious (or conscious!) penalization on reviews, promotions, and bonuses

What is the solution? More policies, more sensitivity training and education, more classic carrot-and-stick motivation? Nope! Instead, I recommend consideration of BJ Fogg’s behavior modification model: Target Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Trigger.

To encourage managers – senior and middle – to support FWAs (the target behavior), each organization ought consider these questions and what the answers are in their unique company culture:

  1. Motivation: What are the core motivators for how my managers behave?
  2. Ability: How can I make it easier for them to support FWAs?
  3. Triggers: What’s the cue, the call to action, for them to get onboard?

Why? FWAs give employees autonomy. Protected FWAs give them safety. Assuming they already have purpose, what does this equal? A happy and motivated employee. What is a happy and motivated employee?

A productive one.

Unlimited vacation is a great incentive, but it may be too broad-stroke for some places. An FWA may be a more palatable and supportable approach.

Remote work arrangements

Some of us like to smell the roses, quite literally. Some of us prefer breathing in that crisp, mountain air. Others are more attuned to aquatic concerns: swimming, snorkeling, diving, sailing. And some of us prefer the deep cold of winter: fresh powder and snowshoeing, warm fires and hot chocolate.

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Now that I have set the scene, let’s talk about the options for remote work arrangements (RWA). RWAs are not just for: developers, designers, photographers, writers, project managers, product managers, salespeople…wait, that covers quite a bit of territory, right?

Let’s adjust that sentence, RWAs can work for every, single job that does not require hands-on manipulation of machinery or objects (e.g. manufacturing assembly, lumbering, telephone repair, plumbing, auto repair, etc.). As more and more of us, particularly in large corporations, work with more broadly distributed teams, ongoing, constant, in-person engagement in the office is no longer the default.

Quick pause: there is great value in having teams physically together. In-person time is necessary; it can be a great way to build strong, closely-aligned teams. However, it need not be a daily thing. Quarterly confabulations, joint conference attendance, regional co-working spaces, periodic, planned on-site days…all of these can work.

In a day-to-day consideration, geographic distribution could in fact be a benefit for teams, in many ways. Some examples:

  1. Faster time-to-market. Code could be developed during one time zone, tested during the following time zone, and fixed and re-deployed in an ongoing, 24-hour cycle.
  2. Balanced collaboration and individual execution. Overlap for planning and presentations, individual time zones for deep work and thinking
  3. Higher quality meetings. The difficulty of scheduling meetings with geographic teams will impose a higher bar of quality for when meetings are required
  4. Break the old models. Proof is in the pudding: face time ≠ productivity

All of this sounds nice, but why has this not spread like an out of control bonfire? Similar to FWAs, traditionalism has a hold. The impediment is entrenched fears and lack of experience with this approach. The fix? The same as the above: put BJ Fogg’s behavior model to work.

The value? Happy and motivated employees who are then able to be productive employees.

The wrap up

In summary:

  1. Unlimited vacation sounds great in theory but is hard to implement well.
  2. Flexible (FWA) and/or remote (RWA) work arrangements are suitable for all jobs that do not require ongoing hands-on manipulation of objects or machinery in a coordinated fashion.
  3. FWAs and RWAs give employees autonomy and control over their lives.
  4. Protected FWAs and RWAs give employees safety.
  5. Assuming that your organization has real purpose, add in autonomy and safety, you will have happy and motivated employees.
  6. Happy and motivated employees are productive ones.
  7. The chief impediment to widespread adoption of FWAs and RWAs is traditionalism (old school managers and mentalities).
  8. Want to combat traditionalism? Consult the Fogg model: find the motivation, make it simple to adjust to the new world, provide the cue to change the behavior.


In the next post on Tuesday, we will discuss purchased vacations, company vacations, and unlimited sabbaticals, other tools to help create happy + motivated = productive employees. Stay tuned and have a great weekend!

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