LinkedIn, the business-oriented social networking giant, recently announced that as of November 1, 2015, it will offer its employees unlimited vacation time.  LinkedIn will join the ranks of other major employers including General Electric Co., Netflix, Virgin Group, and Groupon in adopting unlimited vacation policies, known in the human resources sphere as “discretionary time off” policies.

There is no federal or Illinois law that requires private sector employers to provide their employees with vacation days, paid or unpaid.  However, many employers opt to provide some form of vacation time to their employees as a key perk of employment.  For those employers who choose to offer vacation time to their employees, those employers are free to devise their own policies and systems, but they then become contractually obligated to abide by those policies.

LinkedIn and the other one percent of employers who have adopted unlimited vacation policies are taking an extremely progressive approach to this area of employee benefits.

At first glance, many employees may view unlimited vacation policies as a significant positive development.  One potential plus of such policies is empowering employees as professionals, allowing them to determine for themselves what is the appropriate amount of time off they may need to fulfill personal commitments and lead more balanced, gratifying lives while still meeting their work obligations and responsibilities.  Pat Wadors, LinkedIn’s Chief Human Resources Officer, indicated that this type of empowerment for both employees and managers is the reason LinkedIn has adopted unlimited vacation time, emphasizing that “[e]mployees are adults who don’t need to be micromanaged or wait to accrue vacation days after a designated period.”

The increased flexibility for employees that naturally stems from the notion of unlimited vacation policies does not truly come without limits, however.  Per LinkedIn’s policy, for example, employees still need to obtain approval for time off from their managers.  Further, the company’s policy will not allow employees to use the vacation time to fundamentally restructure their work schedules, by for instance, altering a five day workweek into a three day workweek or using the vacation time to cover extended leaves of absence that may fall under other leave policies, such as consecutive months off at a time.

Although unlimited vacation seems like a great stride forward for employees, not all believe that the policies actually accomplish what they set out to do.  Chicago Tribune attempted to institute an unlimited vacation policy last year, but dropped the policy after that company’s employees complained.  Kickstarter also nixed its unlimited vacation policy last month after its employees began taking fewer vacation days.  Kickstarter now simply offers a generous allotment of 25 days of vacation per year.  Even though unlimited vacation policies seem well-intentioned, many employees feel fearful about their job security if they take what they or their managers may perceive as too many vacation days, and as a result, these employees underutilize the policies.

Indeed, even when given clear vacation day limits, American employees have been found to underutilize their allotted vacation time.  A 2014 Glassdoor survey found the average American employee takes off only half of their available days, and 61% report working during their vacations.  With this in mind, it is not a stretch to presume that employees may feel pressured to take even less time off under unlimited policies than usual because they lack clear guidelines dictating the acceptable number of vacation days.

Some employers have begun to recognize this tendency among employees and implement strategies and incentives to counteract them, realizing that workers who get adequate time off lead more rounded lives which can render them more productive and better contributors to the business.  LinkedIn has specified that in addition to its unlimited vacation policy, its U.S. employees will get the entire week of July Fourth off, and their employees also do not have to work from the Christmas holiday through New Year’s.  Other employers have gone so far as to offer monetary bonus incentives to employees who take at least a certain amount of vacation time per year.

LinkedIn’s unlimited vacation policy has yet to take effect so time will tell how the policy works in practice for its employees.  Nonetheless, LinkedIn and the other organizations that have adopted unlimited vacation policies are certainly paving the way for broader perspectives and more innovative thinking so that other employers may take similar cues with regard to how they may better structure their policies to improve the quality of life for their employees.

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