Unlimited Vacation Days: A Blessing or a Curse?

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Though the average American worker gets 10 paid vacation days per year, some employees get even less of a break. On the other hand, there are also those who get considerably more than 10 days off per year. In fact, some lucky workers don't have a cap on their vacation time at all.

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These days, a growing number of companies both large and small are giving employees the benefit of unlimited vacation days. It's estimated, in fact, that about 1% of U.S. employers offer unrestricted paid time off.

While policies can vary from company to company (for example, some firms might limit employees to no more than 10 consecutive days off at a time), generally, employers that offer this perk allow workers to decide how much time off they need during the year. The idea behind this sort of system is that as long as employees are able to keep up with their work and manage their time, they're free to take breaks from the office as needed.

Of course, this isn't just a one-sided benefit; unlimited vacation time can work in employers' favor, too. Under the traditional time off model, an employee will typically accrue vacation time that can potentially be cashed out upon termination. With an unlimited time off policy, there are no vacation days to accrue, and so if an employee leaves the company, be it voluntarily or otherwise, there's no requirement to pay that person any additional sum.

But while the idea of unlimited vacation might seem like a win-win for everyone, it doesn't always benefit employees the way you think it would. Here are a few advantages and drawbacks of such a policy.

Benefits of unlimited vacation

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One major benefit of getting unlimited vacation is the ability to take time off when you need it, without having to worry about running out of days. Say you have a year with several out-of-town weddings to attend. Under a traditional policy, you might stress about attending all those events, but if you know you have unlimited vacation, that worry is eliminated.

Having unlimited vacation can also be better for your health in a number of ways. First, getting more frequent breaks from the office can help you recharge and avoid burnout -- which might lead to better productivity. Furthermore, some companies combine sick time and vacation time into a single bucket with limited days, which means employees are more likely to drag themselves into work when they're under the weather to avoid "wasting" those days. With an unlimited vacation policy, you'll have an easier time staying home to recuperate when your body needs the rest.

Disadvantages of unlimited vacation

Though many workers celebrate the idea of unlimited vacation, that policy may not work out so well for you in theory. First of all, if you abuse this benefit, you may enjoy some short-term gratification in the form of extra trips or long weekends, but if your work suffers, you could find yourself out of a job. Many workers don't have the self-discipline to know how much vacation time is too much, and if you're not careful, abusing your company's policy could hurt your career.

Additionally, as an employee, it can be tricky to gauge just how much time off is actually acceptable in the eyes of your employer. Remember, even if your company offers unlimited vacation, it expect you won't take 62 days off in a given year. It's then up to you to determine what's considered reasonable, and if you opt for a conservative number, you might end up taking less time off than you would under a traditional vacation policy. As it is, American workers have a tendency to forgo vacation days even when companies make it clear how many they're entitled to. So while an unlimited policy might seem generous in theory, it could end up making you paranoid and ultimately work against you.

Though there are definitely some advantages to having an unlimited vacation policy, this trend can also end up being somewhat of a curse. If your company offers unlimited vacation, sit down with your manager or HR partner and aim to get some clarity on the expectations involved. Furthermore, if you are going to be more liberal about taking time away from the office, be sure to still clear it with your manager in advance, and make sure there's adequate coverage in your absence.

A big reason these unlimited vacation policies work is that companies are growing to trust employees to do the right thing. Abuse that trust, and you could face some rather serious repercussions.

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