By Sheryl Smolkin
Read this article and comments at Moneyville.ca
It doesn’t matter how many weeks of vacation you have, it never seems like enough. By the time you book off a summer week, March break, plus time for your childrens’ soccer tournament and parent-teacher interviews, you’ve run out of paid time off.
But employees of the Toronto-based Social Media Group don’t have that problem. In October, 2010, CEO Maggie Fox did away with tracking vacation days and introduced an unlimited paid vacation policy for her 20 employees.
The company helps organizations develop strategies around the effective use of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Linked in. Clients include Fortune 500 organizations like 3M, Ford, CNN, Thomson Reuters and a top global bank. Fox says, “We’re playing with the “big boys” and our incredible team has to deliver their A+ game – Every. Single. Day. What shouldn’t an employee be able to taking an afternoon off to play with her kids?”
The “golden rule” is that each employee is responsible for his own mental health, his colleagues and his clients. Time off has to be cleared with supervisors, but it’s an informal process. “Obviously if you said I want to take six weeks off starting tomorrow, it would not be feasible. But if you gave us a couple of months notice and a plan for structuring your work, it is not impossible.”
The company doesn’t keep formal statistics, but Fox believes people are taking more time off overall, and she says that’s a good thing. “It’s not so much that people are saying let me take a week or a month four times a year. But they are taking more long weekends in addition to scheduled family vacations.”
The only negative she can think of is that often when offers are extended to new employees, they don’t believe her. She explains that the starting point is the minimum vacation required by law, and that’s what staff are paid if they leave the company with unused time off. But while they are working for the company, the unlimited paid vacation policy applies.
Fox agrees that unlimited vacation would be impossible in a manufacturing company or where essential services are provided, but she says the size of her organization isn’t really a factor. Netflix in the U.S. introduced open-ended vacations for over 500 salaried employees in 2004 and IBM Canada has eliminated tracking of vacation days (except in their Quebec manufacturing plant). IBM Guidelines say employees get a three week vacation to start but there is no policing and employees are empowered to take vacation whenever they want.
While unlimited vacation appears to be the ultimate perk, a 2010 Expedia Survey reveals that almost half of Canadian employees do not fully take advantage of the number of vacation days they have now. Top reasons cited are they do not schedule a vacation long enough in advance, they are too busy to get away, or their significant other can’t get away.
Do people at the Social Media Group abuse the program? Not at all, says Fox. “We work hard and play hard. I hire people who do great work. If I hire someone who takes advantage of the program, it’s my problem, because I’ve made a bad decision.”