Some people look forward to their yearly raise; others aspire to the corner office. Not me. My favorite workplace “incentive” is paid time off – sick days, vacation days, personal days, holidays. The roughly 17 days of paid leave I get every year is by far the best perk you could give me. I long for the time – 9 years from now, given my current employer’s policy, but who’s counting? – when I get enough vacation days each year to take a full month off.

So when I saw this headline on CNBC – about unlimited paid vacation days – my heart skipped a beat. Really? I could take 3 weeks of vacation right now, even though my seniority only allows me 2 weeks? YES PLEASE!

Only a fraction of American companies actually ascribe to this unlimited paid time off policy – roughly 1% of the American workforce is employed by a business that lets YOU determine how many days you will or will not work each year. Among them is Netflix, which claims the flexibility of their unusual policy helps increase worker productivity.

I definitely see their point. I know that I am at my most efficient on the job during the weeks leading up to and immediately following my annual beach trip. I see how much more motivated I am to get through my assignments when I’ve got a 3-day weekend on the horizon. And when I don’t have to worry about coming in sick – or working while my kids are home sick from school – my mind is less likely to be focused on what’s going on at home than on my latest project.

But this “unlimited time off” policy has some potential pitfalls. Chief among them? A huge number of American workers already fail to use all the sick days allotted to them each year. With competition already so rampant in the workplace, I’ve got to wonder if – with no restrictions on time off – employees would try to one-up each other by using as few days off as possible.

Of course, you’re probably wondering – what’s in this for the companies? After all, why take the risk of employees taking off dozens of sick and vacation days each year if there’s no reward in it for The Man? The payoff for businesses comes when you end your work relationship with an employer; without a set number of days in place, companies won’t have to pay employees back for unused paid time off. I know when my husband left his first job, he got a payout check for almost $3,000.

This policy got me thinking: how many days off would I take if I had such a flexible policy? I’d probably take about 3 weeks vacation time; I’d never worry about calling in sick when I was actually sick, and I’d probably take far fewer “mental” health days. I’d likely strive to work 4 10-hour days each week during the summer, so I could have 3-day weekends during the longest days of the year.

What would you do if you had unlimited sick days and vacation days?


Libby Balke

Libby Balke