Could ‘Unlimited Vacation’ Work in the Public Sector?

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 7 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #155736

    Mark Sullivan

    From a recent FastCompany Article: “Unlimited vacation fosters productivity and loyalty because it favors results over input. ‘We don’t judge employees based on the number of lines of code they write, but instead on the impact their innovative ideas have on our users,’ he says. ‘If we trust employees to make the right decisions with the time they spend at work in pursuit of our aggressive goals, we can trust them to make responsible decisions about when they choose to take time off of work.'”

    What do folks think?

    full article at

  • #155760

    Henry Brown

    the operative word here is TRUST I doubt if I had 3 supervisors in my 40 year career that had that level of trust between us…

    Another issue, in the federal work place at least, is how the organization deals with those that “abuse” the system…

    Another issue is how to measure impact on users. Would suggest that it could be as effective to measure an employee’s productivity by the number of error free lines of code….

  • #155758

    Paul Wolf

    I agree that the issue here is TRUST. The public has very little trust in government. Elected leaders have very little trust between their colleagues who they routinely stab in the back for the sake of power and ego from the federal level on down to the smallest village.

    Such a toxic environment impacts how employees interact with each other, which makes implementing such an idea difficult.

  • #155756

    Stacey Swanson

    In a Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE, the focus is results and not tracking time. When people are given control over their lives to achieve their results in the best way possible, great things happen. I would say yes, unlimited vacation could work and be successful in the public sector. My only caveat is the union agreements, etc would need to be updated so it can be implemented in a compliant way.

  • #155754

    Mark Hammer

    Ooh, ooh! You know what’s great on salads? Capers, and Greek olives. I should really contemplate putting some in my ice cream and in my kid’s birthday cake.

    While I can imagine scenarios in which such an arrangement could work in the private sector, unless one happens to be in one of those rare 0.1% of jobs where no one else is waiting for your work and you’re not waiting for their tidbit to be done, or where a minimum staff complement doesn’t need to be on hand at all times, this is a largely unrealistic possibility.

    We seem to make the mistaken assumption that what separates private from public sector is solely the financial underpinnings or the motive for the work, and that the work to be done and the manner in which the work is carried out, are the same as the private sector. They’re not. Porting ideas back and forth doesn’t work nearly as well as many think it does.

  • #155752

    Terrence Hill

    I agree with you Stacey. I think that ROWE can work in the public sector and that eventually, we can get rid of all the old rules (many imposed by the unions themselves) regarding time and attendance. We just aren’t quite ready to measure performance and results, which are prerequisites to ROWE, but I am confident that we can get there!

  • #155750

    Stacey Swanson


    CultureRx is the consulting firm who helps organizations measure the results. The measurement piece is not specific to the public sector, we see all variations of performance management systems and utilization.

    Let me know if/when you are at a place to talk ROWE for your org!

  • #155748

    Henry Brown

    Agree with both you and Stacey that ROWE is in fact the solution… like you I believe that the federal government sector has a ways to go before we are at the point that we can properly measure results…

    Would offer that until we can get there, proper measurement of results, vacation time and who controls it is a long way off.

  • #155746

    Steve Ressler

    Would be interesting to go behind the scenes and see how people react to unlimited vacation..

    Do they revert roughly to whatever days of leave they got at last job?
    I actually assume that there is some “norming” effect where folks that want to get ahead and look good model their behaviors after what everyone else is doing. I wonder what the range of number of days people actually took off is.

  • #155744

    Hmmm….I would guess it would work. I have over 7 weeks of vacation (and nearly 6 months of sick leave) banked because I don’t have time to take vacation or be out sick. I know of many co-workers in the same boat as me. So, I can see it working because I can’t take time off anyway, no matter how much time off I have.

  • #155742

    Mark Sullivan

    Excellent discussion! I particularly agree that the challenges center around both trust and norming. I would even suggest that the challenges rest more with co-workers than with management. Most efforts at systemic change fail due to conflicts of group/organizational values and habits, rather than the technical challenges involved in changing rules, contracts, etc.

    Perhaps, as Henry indicates, we can get there by focusing on measurable results. If we can build organizational cultures in government that value outcomes rather than process, then the issue of how and when employees use their time (and leave) become moot.

    I think that part of the challenge also involves a ‘fear of loss’ …employees who fear loss of security over how thier work is evaluated, managers who fear a loss of competence in how manage their staff, and unions that fear loss of control over what they could/should bargain. My experience has been that many efforts at large systemic change fail because we don’t account for how people will react to these types of concerns that affect thier basic needs and identities.

  • #155740

    Colleen Ayers

    Wasn’t the concept of allocating hours for vacation time implemented to make sure employees are entitled to a certain amount of vacation, not to limit it? The only way this sort of proposal could work is if the only person who has to approve the leave is the employee. But when the supervisor has to agree that yes, you can go off on vacation, I think an “unlimited” system could easily backfire.

    I hear far more horror stories about supervisors who don’t allow leave time than I do about employees abusing their leave privileges. At least right now with things like “use or lose”, the supervisor can only say “not approved for RIGHT NOW, but you can use it at X other time.”

  • #155738

    You are so right about more horror stories about supervisors. I had a friend who was a supervisor say he wouldn’t hire anyone who didn’t have a certain amount of leave time on the books, because it shows their work ethic. I told him that was rediculous because you didn’t have any understanding of the circumstances of why a person did not have that accumulated leave. It was a horrible hiring concept!

    My husband and I made reservations to go on vacation because we were traveling with my sister and her husband. My boss turned down my leave because it was too far in advance. What if they needed me when the time came? I would have to cancel. I had to threaten a grievance as it was another rediculous issue. If you are or making reservations you need to do it in advance. And I would not be planning on cancelling at the last minute to handle some situation that might come up.

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