Discretionary Time Off is Coming

Accountability Management Productivity


Key Point: We ALL need to recharge, refuel, attend to personal matters, care for others and sometimes heal ourselves. Of course, the way each of us really needs to manage these matters is very individual and unique. Yet most organizations approach this reality through standardized and homogeneous policies reflected in paid vacation days, leave and sick time. The essence of most current “time off” guidelines is that workers accumulate vacation days based on tenure and receive a set number of days to accommodate for sickness. Over the years, a myriad of “other leave” policies to manage the realities of life (like bereavement) have emerged as well.

Institutions employ people whose full time jobs include administering and accounting for the implementation of these systems. The question being asked more frequently today is whether the approach to current time off policy is antiquated. As an example, leading technology company LinkedIn is going to a 17 paid holidays PLUS a totally discretionary time off policy starting Nov. 1. Essentially, each employee is on an “honor” system to take as much time as they need. Netflix, Virgin and many other companies with progressive policies have done so already and/or are considering it. The company I’m the Chief People Officer of is actively reviewing our stance right now. Why?

When my father was a farmer, who set his personal time off? When I had my own business for 10 years, who set my personal time off policy? The fact is that when you are exclusively responsible for results, you and only you determine “time off.” There is no HR manual or boss to guide the decision. In most entrepreneurial scenarios, the consequences of time away from working are usually directly connected to “putting food on the table” and appropriately the decision is very personal. No results = no money to eat, let alone vacation. It is a very self-accountable environment. Of course, the above analogy doesn’t exactly translate to most organizations for the simple reason that the majority of us are employees and not owners. So the consequences of our time off decision-making are a little more complicated. Nevertheless, most would agree with the following:

  1. Each of our personal requirements for applying time away from work (how much, when, etc.) is unique and highly variable. Subsequently, many current time away from work policies are inadequate at best and can drive deceptive behavior at worst (for example, calling in “sick” for [insert fake reason]).
  1. The cost of administering the application of “traditional” systems involves a lot of waste/inefficiency and unnecessary adjudication (like buying vacations, paying vacations out, complicated absenteeism formula, accrued time off liabilities, and so on).
  1. Achieving results and making a contribution is much more important than counting time as a surrogate. And time away from work is not necessarily or should be a reward. (Why do I want to be away from what I like to do, am good at, and people I like to be with)? At the same time we know that refueling and energizing is necessary. Recognizing how to integrate work and things that happen in life is also reasonable. Segregating simply on time (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with four weeks vacation after 20 years seniority) is appropriately dissolving. Yay! Also, seniority as a means to earn four plus weeks off seems silly.
  1. Mobile technology allows many of us to complete work and achieve results in very different ways. A lot of information workers are not tied to a location or set time. Work and life is much more integrated than segregated. We need to manage ourselves rather than to be “supervised.” Most of us can appreciate the fact that no results will conclude with no job.

Character Moves:

  1. If you could organize personal time off in any way that worked for you while effectively contributing to your organization, what would the ideal arrangement look like? Ask yourself and your organization why it can’t be that way.
  1. Open yourself to constructively confront many policies and assumptions that we have historically accepted about work life. The way many of us apply personal time off is one of them. Let’s change it for the better where we work.

Accountable time off in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I’m a huge proponent of this and I’m thankful that work life is moving in this direction. In my industry, it couldn’t be more feasible. All I care about providing for my company is valuable results, and it’s true with today’s technology that I can do 90 percent of my work from anywhere at any time. The kicker is that there are team members who DO need to be on location, so how is it fair to them if I’m sitting in my gym shorts delivering my work via Box.com in between loads of laundry? I can feel the envy already. That’s the biggest concern for many. No one wants to let a team member down or seem expendable because they’re not in eyesight. But employees can’t be naïve for too much longer… It’s a big, accessible, connected world out there and often I bet you can get better work done with a scenic view and wifi instead of cubicle walls. I’d love to try it. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis