Out of Control Policy Blog

See you on Tuesday--or whenever you feel like coming back from vacation

I've suggested that one under appreciated reason Americans work so much is that lots of people like working. Unlike days gone by when so many were stuck in fields or factories, more of us have jobs that we find quite fulfilling.

But, come on, vacation is still great, and some American companies offer the unthinkable--unlimited vacation days:

    It's every worker's dream: take as much vacation time as you want, on short notice, and don't worry about your boss calling you on it. Cut out early, make it a long weekend, string two weeks together – as you like. No need to call in sick on a Friday so you can disappear for a fishing trip. Just go; nobody's keeping track.

    That is essentially what goes on at I.B.M., one of the cornerstones of corporate America, where each of the 355,000 workers is entitled to three or more weeks of vacation. The company does not keep track of who takes how much time or when, does not dole out choice vacation times by seniority and does not let people carry days off from year to year.

    Instead, for the past few years, employees at all levels have made informal arrangements with their direct supervisors, guided mainly by their ability to get their work done on time. Many people post their vacation plans on electronic calendars that colleagues can view online, and they leave word about how they can be reached in a pinch.

    "It's like when you went to college and you didn't have high school teachers nagging you anymore," said Mark L. Hanny, I.B.M.'s vice president of independent software vendor alliances. "Employees like that we put more accountability on them."

Sure there are plenty of trade-offs (do you really want to be on call during vacation?), but it works for plenty of workers. Two more examples of a kick-back view of vacation:

    Motley Fool, the online investment adviser, has, since its founding 13 years ago, let employees take as many paid vacation or sick days as they need; the company's director of human resources, Lee Burbage, said that most of its 180 workers take three to four weeks a year. Netflix, the online DVD distributor, no longer allots specific numbers of vacation days to its 400 salaried employees.

    "When you have a work force of fully formed professionals who have been working for much of their life," Patty McCord, the chief talent officer of Netflix, said, "you have a connection between the work you do and how long it takes to do it, so you don't need to have the clock-in and clock-out mentality."

Not surprising that a friendlier attitude toward telecommuting is also common among these companies:

    The hands-off approach to vacation time, which gradually took hold over the past decade, has come amid I.B.M.'s shift from engineering and manufacturing into services like consulting and is part of a broader demise of old notions of eight hours' pay for eight hours' work at a fixed location.

    Aided by broadband connections, cellphones and video conferencing software, 40 percent of I.B.M.'s employees have no dedicated offices, working instead at home, at a client's site, or at one of the company's hundreds of "e-mobility centers" around the world, where workers drop in to use phones, Internet connections and other resources.

    ...

    "If you look at the organizations that have done more radical things, they tend to be technology companies with salaried people," where flexibility in job performance "is embedded into the culture of the place," noted Max Caldwell, a managing principal in the work force effectiveness area at Towers Perrin, a human resources consultant.

    Indeed, I.B.M.'s Mr. Calo said that the flexibility has helped the company compete with the more freewheeling atmosphere at start-up rivals in the technology world that have lured away some of its talent over the years.

    "We have a reputation of not being as hip as a Google or a Netflix," he said. "You don't have to be the coolest guy on the block, but you don't have to be the Big Blue nerd, either."

NYT article here.

My take on HP falling away from telecommuting here.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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