Vacation and Social Norms

Companies constantly examine their benefits policies, as they should. The right mix of pay and benefits is important to attract the talent that increasingly determines which companies will succeed and which will fail.

Unfortunately, sometimes these policies are more gimmick-oriented than results-oriented. One trend that I find disturbing is the idea of unlimited or untracked vacation. Why is this a problem? Because when you’re not forced to take vacation there’s no social norm of how much vacation you can take and taking any can seem like slacking off.

Setting a number of vacation days implicitly legitimizes that number as what the company thinks appropriate. So if your compensation includes 10 vacation days a year then that has the effect of the company stating: “It’s OK to take 10 vacation days each year.” When there’s no set policy how can workers know how much is too much. Rather than allowing workers to take more vacation, these policies might encourage workers to take as little vacation as they can.

Businessweek has a writeup of the trend:

“Some companies are realizing they have to look for other benefits for their employees because the limited, paid vacation doesn’t look like a benefit anymore. It feels like more control,” says Jody Thompson, co-founder of workforce consultant CultureRx.

Perhaps. And perhaps it’s just the latest trend benefits consultants have come up with to sell to companies.

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