unlimited vacation: workers in busy open office
About two percent of workplaces offer employees unlimited vacation

Taking as much time as you want off work sounds like a fantasy. But a growing number of companies are making it a reality.

Which companies offer unlimited vacation?

Last month LinkedIn joined the list of employers that allow employees to take unlimited vacation days. True, there are some limits. Staff can’t work a four-day week, for example. And they can’t take months off on end. But it’s a big change from LinkedIn’s former policy of three weeks off a year.

Several other companies are empowering employees to manage their own vacation schedules. Those include MGM Resorts International, Virgin Group, General Electric, Grant Thornton and The Motley Fool, as well as tech companies such as Netflix, Groupon, Zynga, Eventbrite and SurveyMonkey. In fact, 60 to 80 percent of Bay Area startups reportedly offer unlimited vacation.

Hubspot, a marketing software company, even mandates that staff take at least a two-week vacation each year. Since it brought in the policy, Hubspot has seen revenues grow from $15.6 million to $77.6 million. It was even named the second fastest-growing software company on the Inc. 500. Other companies with unlimited vacation policies have reported similar financial growth, as well as increases in employee engagement and retention.

The Society for Human Resource Management says that just two percent of companies offer the unlimited vacation perk. And another two percent are reportedly considering adopting the policy this year.

unlimited vacation: workers at desks in busy office
Employees at companies with unlimited vacation policies feel rewarded, valued, trusted and empowered

Advantages of unlimited vacation

The benefits? Employees at companies with unlimited vacation policies are freed from the pressure to plan and save vacation days. They feel rewarded, valued, trusted and empowered. And it’s a great recruiting tool.

Employers don’t have the administrative duty to note time off, nor the financial duty to pay out unused vacation time. The U.S. Travel Association says that saves them $1,898 per employee each year.

One tech firm goes a step further. Evernote, a note-taking app company, has an unlimited vacation policy. On top of that, employees who take at least a week off at a time receive $1,000 of spending money. (They also get professional housecleaning twice a month).

Evernote’s bonus sends a message to employees: we’re giving you all this vacation time and we really want you to use it. That’s because – ironically – some companies have noticed an unexpected result of their unlimited vacation policy. When the fundraising platform Kickstarter offered the perk to its employees, people were reluctant to book time off. They didn’t know how much was acceptable to use. Kickstarter replaced the policy with a generous five weeks off, and people started taking vacation time again.

unlimited vacation: businesspeople in meeting at conference room table
Three out of every four workers don’t take their full allotment of vacation days each year

Workers reluctant to take time off

Kickstarter’s experience points at a larger issue: Americans are reluctant to take vacation time. A Glassdoor/Harris Interactive poll found 75 percent of employees do not take the full number of paid vacation days they’ve earned. Of those, 15 percent didn’t take a single day off in the previous year. The average employee takes a bit more than half the time off they’re entitled to take. And 61 percent of workers admitted to working while on vacation.

Why is this happening? A survey by the U.S. Travel Association and GfK found:

  • 40 percent are afraid they’d return to a mountain of work
  • 37 percent says it’s not easy to take time off
  • 35 percent say no one else can fill in for them
  • 28 percent say they want to show complete dedication to the company and job
  • 22 percent don’t want people to think they’re replaceable
  • 20 percent say the company’s culture doesn’t promote taking time off
  • 16 percent are afraid they’ll lose their job

The US Travel Association also says two-thirds of workers receive negative, mixed or no messages about taking time off. One-third of senior leaders rarely discuss the benefits of taking time off with staff. Almost half of managers (46 percent) answer work emails and 29 percent return work calls on vacation. That sets an example workers feel they need to follow.

The impact of this cultural barrier against travel? Americans are taking the least amount of vacation in four decades. From 1976 to 2000, U.S. workers took 20.3 vacation days each year. By 2013, they took just 16 days. That’s almost a work week less than pre-2000 figures. That means the U.S. private sector has $224 billion in unused vacation days. Their employees are giving up $52.4 billion in earned benefits each year.

In the mid-1970s, about 80 percent of workers took a weeklong vacation each year, according to Vox. Today, more than half – 56 percent – of Americans haven’t taken a full week away from the office in the past year. That’s up from 52 percent in 2012, according to a survey by Allianz Global Assistance.

unlimited vacation: happy couple in front of parthenon in athens, greece
Time off work improves everything from your physical and mental health to your creativity and happiness

Benefits of time off

Virtually all Americans – 96 percent – realize taking time off is important. And virtually all (88 to 94 percent) of human resources professionals say vacation time is critical to morale, wellness, performance, retention and productivity. Three out of four HR professionals say employees who take most or all of their time off perform better than others who take less vacation. They don’t burn out and they stay engaged with their duties and company. They enjoy higher job satisfaction and remain at the employer for longer.

Study after study has shown how vacations benefit people. Time away improves everything from your physical health to your mental wellbeing. It increases your creativity and happiness.

Employees say time off helps them relax and recharge (90 percent), lets them do what they enjoy (88 percent), and makes them happier (85 percent). Almost eight in 10 (79 percent) say time off strengthens bonds with family and friends.

In a surprising twist, taking all your vacation time may even give you a leg up at work. One study found people who take all their days off have a 6.5 percent higher chance of a promotion or raise than people who leave 11 or more vacation days on the table.

What’s stopping you?

Are you one of those employees leaving vacation time on the table? Or are you one of the lucky ones with an unlimited vacation policy at work? Either way, you’ve got the time to travel.

Take advantage of the opportunity and start thinking about your next adventure. Need help? A Virtuoso travel advisor will be your partner in travel planning. You’ll make the most of your time away from the office. And you’ll return with all those physical, mental and social benefits.