An Unlimited Holiday Policy?

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


When I was in Calgary, a few eons ago, I hired a lot of people. When asked about EllisDon’s vacation policy, I’d sometimes say: “Well, if your client’s happy, your project is going extremely well, everyone is getting along, and it’s very profitable, there is little chance that we are going to argue about how many holiday days you’ve taken. However, if you have to be tracked down because your work is beset with problems, the project is losing money and behind schedule and the client is angry, then you better not be on a golf course in Arizona.” (The person would then smile and say “I was being serious”. I’d reply “Hey, so was I”.)

Now I am reading that more and more companies (including IBM) are moving to a policy of unstructured, ‘unlimited’ holidays’, where the company doesn’t even try to track how many holidays you have taken each year. There is a job to do, and people are measured on performance. There are ‘guidelines’, and people have to work things out with their boss, and both must make sure that the holidays are achieved. But at these companies, head office doesn’t track, measure or enforce.

Obviously, people should take all their holiday time, and be accountable to themselves and their families for that. But I’d suggest that all the time head offices spend (valiantly) measuring and recording everyone’s holidays is a waste of time: It can’t be done. Plus, more and more, companies are asking people to work and to be accessible well beyond the traditional ‘9 to 5’. Even when many people are on holidays, their blackberries are on. Week-ends are for catching up.

There is a flip side as well: Two years ago, a fellow left EllisDon and gave us a bill for four untaken holiday weeks. He was lying. He had taken plenty of time off, and everyone knew it. But because he hadn’t called Head Office and recorded them, the computer showed he hadn’t taken them. Fairness cuts both ways, and this has to end.

So we are asking our people what they would think about an unstructured, untracked approach to holidays at EllisDon. People need to get the job done. We all need to communicate with each other about where we are and who’s doing what. We need to treat each other fairly, the client excellently; we need to achieve our goals.

But for crying out loud, we need to take all of our holidays. And some extra time for the extra hours worked. If there is a family emergency, take off, just go.

Unlimited holidays. It will be interesting to see the reaction.