US bosses and workers test benefits of ‘unlimited’ vacations
More employees and bosses are testing the benefits of 'unlimited' vacations
American businesses are gradually embracing flexible work and holiday times, with bosses saying they increase profitability.
At Ryan, a tax services firm of 1,600 employees, most workers have not formally declared their hours since 2008, and no one keeps track of time off.
It's an exception to the norm in the United States, where most people work 40 hours a week and paid leave is not regulated by law.
On average, Americans receive two weeks of paid vacation a year.
Steve Thompson, a director at Ryan's Washington office, says he often begins his summer weekends at mid-day on Fridays to avoid traffic on his way to the beach.
He and the two people on his team generally are in the office from 10am to 4pm so-called "core hours" - but are otherwise free to organise their work weeks.
Thompson, 32, whose job entails helping businesses reduce their property taxes, earning Ryan a percentage of the savings, says he sometimes leaves at lunchtime to do errands or work out.
"If I'm feeling particularly stressed and I don't have a meeting, I can go to the gym, work out some of the stress and then come back to work," he said.
He estimated that in practice, his two team members still limited their "real" vacation to two consecutive weeks last year.
But the real added value of the policy for employees is that they can easily take three-day weekends or the occasional day off, as long as they get their work done. Telecommuting, which has been made easier by new technologies, is encouraged.
The multiple benefits of unlimited vacations extend to employers as well, said Sheeva Ghassemi-Vanni, a lawyer who helps companies with similar transitions, especially in Silicon Valley.
For one, businesses no longer have to devote administrative resources to keeping track of leave. And when employees leave the company, it no longer has to pay out accrued vacation time.
Kelly Sakai, of the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, said more and more companies - especially in the financial and technological sectors - were adopting a system under which a physical presence was not required and a worker had a certain degree of autonomy.
But she cautioned that in some companies, "people don't really feel that they can take any of these days off because there's no minimum of days that you need to be taking".
Cliff Palefsky, an employment lawyer in San Francisco, said unlimited vacation was "not common" and where it did exist, it required both "good faith on the part of the company and the employees".
As it is relatively easy to fire staff in the US, workers are acutely aware that they must produce or face the chopping block, making potential wide-scale abuses of the system unlikely.