Unlimited holiday policies are a fascinating subject. Basically, it is just a policy, and in a culture of high – trust and responsibility, it is so very logical to have one in place.
Companies that have been around a bit longer usually have traditional holiday policies in place, where employees can only take the standard 25 days (*depending on country location). However, some of them are changing that and are implementing an unlimited holiday policy.
To learn more about implementing an unlimited holiday policy- click here.
It is common for some established companies to feel that they are ‘not ready’ to put a similar policy in place. These companies would rather hold on to the formal structures and comfort that they are used to. Interestingly enough, I encounter more and more startups who are not putting holiday policies in place at all. For them, it genuinely doesn’t make sense to start tracking vacation time and they don’t want to start doing so. They believe that traditional policies would undermine or damage their work culture, which is typically very result driven, and based on trust and responsibility.
Shiptimize is a good example of such a startup. The founders Jorn and Mark never put such a policy in place, instead, they have built a work culture based on mutual trust. I interviewed Jorn about their philosophy and experience with building a work culture, and how the unlimited holiday policy relates to that.
Shiptimize is a remote working start-up that helps many e-commerce-, retail- and wholesale businesses with the logistic of their shipping processes. It’s a company that believes in flexibility and freedom of choice in every aspect of their business. They have developed a culture that values trust and believes that workers know what is best for them. In this context, the unlimited holiday policy is the only one that makes sense.
Why an unlimited holiday policy?
As founders, Jorn Spiertz and Mark Bastiaanssen don’t believe in creating a contract which decides when and how people should work, when someone is more productive and what time of the day better suits anybody to do their jobs. They treat people the way they want to be treated, so they let their employees decide how long their work weeks are as long as the discussed responsibilities and expected outcomes are clearly understood and met.
“When you start a business you start with a very small team: me and Mark. It feels strange to set up a contract between two people deciding yeah, you can have forty days or twenty-five or whatever the standard is”.
Deciding on an unlimited number of days was an organic choice because they knew their responsibilities and when they could take their days off.
“When we starting hiring more people this became our culture. Who am I to decide for an organization and an individual what is the best time they need? They know about their responsibilities, much better than I do and they know about their day to day task much better than I do. So this policy is a logical step.”
Their employees have the choice to decide how many days off they need and when to take them. This type of policy works because they have built a trusting company culture that makes it possible.
How do you build a culture of trust?
Working remotely means there is no day-to-day physical interaction and there are no direct control mechanisms over employees, so you need trust within your organization.
“You don’t know everything, you have to rely on other people and their knowledge. We really value trust within the organization, and basically, we look for people that are trustworthy, but also who we can give the trust and still take the responsibility for the freedom they get.” A culture of trust is essential for our employees to thrive and thus helping us to become succesful.
“How we show a culture of trust? It is in a lot of small things, we provide people the tools that they need to perform their job, give them the feeling that we trust them by literally saying that they have the freedom to decide to do things their way and work according to the way they believe is the right way to do things. For example, we give the people the right to decide when and how long they want to go on a break for, based on the responsibilities they have at that moment”.
This way, the unlimited holiday policy becomes not only a perk but embodies the way they do things in Shiptimize. Everyone knows their responsibilities and is committed to the company, so it is trusted that people won’t abuse the policy.
Want to know more about how Shiptimize works on building a culture of trust? Read the article: The Non-Interview about how their hiring procedure is based on trust and equality.
How the unlimited number of holidays works?
We still need a formal contract that has the holidays stipulated by law, “but in practice, we don’t deal with it that way”. That number begins to be interpreted as a minimum rather than a maximum number of holidays allowed every year.
Tip: put a minimum holiday policy in place, rather than unlimited or maximum. That way it allows your employees to feel they can decide independently to take as many days as they need. Most importantly, it will allow you to be compliant with local labor law and shows that you are encouraging your employees having a good work-life balance.
It’s a change in mindset where the power of decision and the responsibility resides in the employee to know their work and when it’s the best time [for them] to take days off to perform at the best of their capability.
This transition can be a little tough at the beginning for some people, but the outcomes prove that the employees prefer this. “A girl asked for clarity about the number of holidays and where could she register the numbers, and where could she apply for holidays. She wanted to make this more formal. I told her I am not gonna register this, you decide when is the best time for you to take your off days. For her, coming from a traditional working environment it was a little bit of a tough thing, but after a month of me asking her about it, she told me this was a lot better and it gives you peace of mind and freedom”.
At Shiptimize, they don’t count the hours people work, or the number of holidays taken. “The amount of hours you put on a job doesn’t say anything about the output, so we don’t care about the amount, I have the feeling that people put more than forty hours in the job, but if they don´t, then they don’t. After all, it’s about the improvement we make all together as a team, not if person A is doing forty hours and person B is doing sixty hours. Good job for people receiving outstanding results in thirty hours!”
The number of days of people take just become a sign of how that person is doing in the company and personally. It typically reflects on their performance, commitment to the business, personal problems, etc. If people start to abuse the policy, it’s generally the symptom of a larger underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
“You never see the number of days the people are taking as an isolated thing, there is always the output and how someone performs in the team. I would never fall over someone taking more than twenty-five days of holiday a year, I would fall over someone who doesn’t live up to promises and does not perform the way we agree on.” This goes beyond an unlimited holiday policy, it works like a thermometer of how everything is going.
We also asked an employee, Melissa Pio, about her view of the company and the trust; she told us this:
“As an employee I can say that, in practice, the unlimited holiday police and the possibility of being able to work from anywhere actually compliment one another. For example: many times I prefer to travel on a Thursday night, work from wherever I am on Friday – instead of taking the day off, which I could – and just enjoy the full weekend knowing that things at work are moving as it should. And I’m not the only one.”
What are the results of implementing an unlimited holiday policy?
When I asked Jorn if people took more or fewer holiday days, he said: “It depends on location, for example in Portugal there are a lot more public holidays, so if you count those…” Jorn and Mark don’t count the number of holidays people take, but they have a feeling that people take less holiday that they would if you were to give them a set number of days. “Sometimes we have to encourage them to take days off. We have people driven by what we do and most of the time it is necessary to slow them down, then tell them ‘when are you gonna get back in the job? ” says Jorn. This policy permits to unify the remote teams working in different countries and holiday time. So far, it has never been abused by a single employee.
For Jorn, the biggest sign that they are on the right track and the culture and vision they created works, is the commitment of their people, no matter the circumstances. “…it’s all about the gut feeling and the talk you have with the team. What I see is, people are committed to our company. Things are not always easy and when things get tough, it’s easy for people to search for other opportunities. The proof that the team stays with us in that time without a discussion or doubt, was a very strong indicator that [it was] this culture and this vision we have, and the way we treat each other, that made people decide to stay with us”.
I really enjoyed the interview and the story of Shiptimize confirms my experience with a lot of other companies. Ultimately, unlimited holiday policies are just a reflection of the culture that you have. The trust, freedom, and responsibility that you can put in place in a culture are the keys to being a successful company in the 21st century. It’s what will allow you to attract people that can actually work on that level and can contribute to the success of your company. An unlimited holiday policy is just a logical step in building the kind of culture that will bring you closer to your success.