There are some jobs that — for the time being, at least — require someone to be at a certain place at a certain time. Many teaching jobs are like that. Childcare, obviously, requires a proximity to the child at a certain time. Most medical procedures are done in person, and plenty of us who shop still appreciate live clerks who are actually in the store.
But other jobs are not like that. Much information work can be done any time or any where. At least in theory, you should be paid for results, not time spent achieving those results. Sometimes this manifests itself as flexible scheduling. But another interesting approach is to create unlimited vacation/sick day policies.
A recent World-Herald article listed several Omaha-area businesses with such policies, and I’m guessing Omaha isn’t the only hotbed of vacation day liberation. I think such policies are mostly smart. Here’s why.
First, trust is a great motivator. In the absence of real reasons to require someone to be onsite at certain times, limited vacation and sick day policies signify a belief that you think people will behave like truant children if not carefully policed. Sure, some people can’t be trusted not to claim to have the flu 365 days a year…but maybe you shouldn’t hire people like that. You can also have ways to weed out anyone who doesn’t meet expectations.
Second, an unlimited vacation policy requires an emphasis on expectations and results. Why, exactly, do you need this number of people in your department? What should they be accountable for doing? What’s a challenging but achievable goal for each employee for each week, month, year? Communicating expectations, and holding people accountable to them, is part of good management. It’s also less prevalent than it should be.
Third, an unlimited vacation (and sick day) policy removes problems that don’t have to be problems. I remember reading an HR publication’s Q&A, in which a manager wrote in asking if he should count an employee’s absence as a sick day — the father didn’t come in because his kid had been up sick all night — vs. a vacation day. This struck me as a lot of bean-counting and bureaucracy. In a different world, that father might be trusted to make up his work after he’d taken a nap. No one would worry about how to attribute the day.
Of course, there’s a downside to being held accountable for results…which is that you actually have to achieve results. And that doesn’t always allow for taking chunks of time off with no communication. When vacation time is accrued in the traditional way in traditional jobs, you’re entitled to it. If your job involves manning the cash register at a store, you clearly won’t be doing that on vacation. The lines are cut and dried. You can tune everything out. If you have to achieve certain results — but can take off whatever time you want — you may be checking email once a day, and handling anything directly related to those required results while on the road.
But personally, I think that’s a good trade off. Since I work for myself writing things (rather than, say, fixing toilets or running a bakery), that’s pretty much how my work works. I go or do whatever I want…but I’ll send emails from a beach house at night, or file a story from a hotel. People who’ve worked with me on projects have worked the same way. Maybe it’s not pure vacation, but I also get away from my desk a lot more often that way.
What’s your organization’s policy toward vacation?
In other news: Whitney Bates asks “Can this year be saved?” We still have about 4000 hours to go in 2013!
Chicago Business runs a story about how “Female execs ditch the domestic to-do list — and the guilt.” I’m broadly sympathetic with the story — I advocate outsourcing non-core competency activities! — but there are certain conventions of this genre that bug me. Some of these women are “outsourcing” domestic tasks to their husbands. The assumption is that domestic tasks are inherently women’s work, and having a stay-at-home husband is outsourcing, as opposed to your family’s decision on division-of-labor. Also, one executive with 2 kids, who’s started a non-profit, outsources things to “do it all without losing her mind.” I’m getting a little tired of the picture of women leaders as crazed jugglers. One of the fascinating things in logs from the Dandelion Project is how much down time there is in women’s lives.