Friday, April 06, 2007


No Such Thing As A Free Vacation?

Netflix is offering unlimited vacation time for its full-time employees, although not for its temp workers and contractors. Nor does anyone appear to monitor whether or not these employees show up at work, when, where or how often. According to CEO Reed Hastings, vacation limits and "face-time" are "relics of the industrial age." He believes that so long as employees complete their work, they can take as much time off as they like.

Netflix workers apparently take advantage of this generous perq, the average salaried employee taking off 25 to 30 workdays a year. The typical American worker gets 10 days off after one year on the job, and 15 days after five years. Yet, even with these modest allotments, one in three American workers don't use all their vacation time. Given this knowledge, one might assume that offering "unlimited" vacation time is simply a recruitment gimmick, not something most workers will take full advantage of. The nebulous definition of when one actually completes one's work will always keep most ambitious (and/or anxious and paranoid) workers chugging away in their cubes. Judging from my own experience, the faster you get your work done, the more work you get to do, and the more work you get to do, the comparatively less expendable you become. The same factors that would earn you more time off than the next guy would also increase the amount of work expected from you, so the amount of vacation time you get would eventually level off. Those with the least to do would get the most vacation, but at the same time they might become the most expendable.

Offering unlimited vacation for getting all your work done might simply be an underhanded tactic for pacifying - and eventually winnowing out - the least ambitious people in your workforce. It would clear the field for the real workers who, by their very nature, would prefer work to vacation and stay on the job - and consequently rise in the ranks. For a while, many workers - especially the young, naive and carefree - will no doubt take advantage of all the time off, cavorting like Eloi in the sunlight. Meanwhile, the Morlocks remain at the desks, toiling their way into the inner circle. The Eloi will for a while extol the visionary generosity of their employer, but eventually they too will see the light, so to speak, of staying out of the light - and the fad of "unlimited vacation time" will fade.

If a vestige of "unlimited vacation time" remains at Netflix in the future, it will be as a surrogate for maternity or paternity leave or will be apportioned out in many brief chunks as "flextime" for soccer moms and hockey dads.

"Vacation policy at Netflix: Take as much as you want" from San Jose Mercury News
"Netflix Vacation Policy: All You Can Eat" from Yahoo! Tech

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