Things You Wish You Could Say At Work

The other day I heard one of our engineers say that he had to take vacation before the end of the year.  It seemed he actually wanted to work, but that he had to use the vacation — or he’d lose it.

Wait a sec.  Here’s a guy who wants to work, but for whom our “use it or lose it” policy is back-firing.  (Of course, he could still take time off and work anyway [I won’t get into that here], and that’s not the point.)

But before I get to my point: I am a big believer in taking time off.  In my earlier days, I had a very hard time pulling myself away.  I went through what felt like extreme emotional duress, worrying about this, that, and the other thing.  I couldn’t sleep, focus, or be present with the people around me.

I was somewhere else and nowhere at all.  Maybe you know the feeling.

But over the years, something strange happened.  I started learning how to unwind, and began forcing myself to disconnect.  And in doing so, I didn’t become lazy (one of my fears), or miss out on something (another fear).  Instead, my thinking was enriched, my soul refreshed, and my body renewed.  Vacation and time away is a wonderful thing and can actually improve your results.  I encourage everyone around me to do it and feel good about it.

So here’s the point — something I wish we could say at work: Why do we even have a vacation policy at all?

I wish we (and other companies) had the guts to implement a policy like this:

  • Official Policy: Be Reasonable And Use Your Head.  That’s it.
  • What does that mean?  It means we don’t track vacation or sick days.  Take as little or as many as you need to feel creative and productive.
  • This doesn’t mean people take time off without getting their job done.  Instead, it means that we track their results  – and people make sure their work gets done.  They’re adults.

I’ve thrown this idea out to people, and I usually get the same question: “Dave, you’re smoking something.  What do we do if someone abuses this policy?

I think that’s easy: We’d let them know they aren’t meeting our “be reasonable and use your head” policy, and we’d say “bye-bye” if it doesn’t improve.  They wouldn’t fit in and I fully expect their peers would call them out.   I realize there are legal implications that would have to be worked out (especially here in CA), but I feel that (maybe?) the right people would be attracted by a policy like this.

Your turn: What do you think of doing away with vacation policies?  What are some things you wish you could say at work, but don’t have the guts to utter?

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About David Rosendahl
Husband, father, co-founder of MindFireInc, two-time Inc500 software company. I love building things.

11 Responses to Things You Wish You Could Say At Work

  1. Ryan says:

    Actually our company in Irvine just implemented this. It’s a very confusing feeling to have infinite sick days and vacation days. Also a confusing feeling to not have an 8 hour fixed work day. I still haven’t fully disconnected myself mentally from the pressure to work exactly 8 hours and I’m not sure how I’m going to do vacations, but we’ll see how it goes!

    At least makes me feel better about having worked in my career for 10+ years and only having gathered two weeks of vacation. That always bummed me out. Now I feel I can take time if I need it.

    • Wow, Ryan that’s interesting.

      So it is disorienting? Do you have a suggestion as to how to improve it?

      Also, I assume the time off is paid, right?

      • Jim Meyer says:

        It’s disorienting because even though the time is unlimited I know my boss will watch to see what I do. He has to approve my time off and so if I try to take three weeks a year – will that negatively affect my review? Without explicit expectations it partly worries me that I would be seen as a slacker.

        I don’t know how to improve it really. I know for me when I do scrum and I’m sprinting for a release I need some down time after. It takes so much effort to meet a major milestone and I’m just fried mentally and emotionally after such a big push. I’ve found it’s good to scale way back during those times.

        The time off is always paid. I feel like it goes a long ways towards establishing trust in the relationship between employer and employee. Like you said we’re all adults.

  2. Ryan says:

    Errrr I posted that last one as my dad. Hahaha. Feel free to delete it or change the author?

  3. hnabavi says:

    Dave, I believe Broadcom has had a similar policy for a few years. About a year and a half ago, when I asked some of their engineers about this, most of them were not too happy about it. They felt as if they had lost their vacation benefits. I think every vacation (or sick leave) there, has to be approved by the employee’s immediate (and second level) supervisor(s). In such a set up, it is possible that some supervisors may not be so willing to let their staff take much time off.

  4. In Between says:

    I think it can be a good thing if implemented correctly, but I worked for a company who essentially had this policy and it was actually more stressful for me. You could take time off whenever you wanted (with approval of course) but there was always this underlying pressure to work more anyway.

    Also, I do really well with structure. I like to have boundaries and systems, so not knowing how much was too much or too little was something I struggled with a lot.

  5. In Between says:

    I worked for a company that had this policy as well, but it was always kind of assumed that you wouldn’t take very much time off. It actually stressed me out more because I had to get everything approved by my supervisor, and I never knew what I was really supposed to take off and how much I was expected to still be on call. Also, I was in grad school at the time, so I already struggled with feeling like I wasn’t giving enough and there was always a reason for me to need more time off, so I went in the opposite direction and worked way more than I probably should have.

    Also, in general I have realized that I am a structure person. I like it when I have systems and structure and boundaries.

  6. Fascinating. It is interesting how most of the feedback here and on Facebook has been that this would be uncomfortable, stressful, and lacking in structure. It is interesting to hear that some of you have actually used it (Ryan, Mikkele, Hamid’s friends at Broadcom).

    I wonder if that is because having a traditional approach is actually better, or that we’re just more comfortable with it? I have a feeling it also depends on how the company internalizes the policy. Some of you seem to feel that it actually makes you work more, because you feel guilty. In my view, that’s counter-productive — maybe there’s a way to address that culturally.

    Thanks for everyone’s feedback!

  7. This feedback is very interesting. It also appears from all your stories that your direct supervisors needed to provide approval for your time off, which sounds like they didn’t trust your judgment to take the time you needed and/or maybe didn’t provide a fuller philosophy along with guiding principles for when to take time and why it’s important. I’m interested to hear if this is the case and if the ambiguity created by this new policy could have been decreased with more communication about how and why to take time off along with assurance that your judgment wouldn’t be used against you.

    • I think that’s probably a key part of it. I think this is what the “ROWE” authors called “sludge” if I remember correctly — the crap we throw at each other when we’re judging each other on things other than our outcomes.

  8. Pingback: ROI Of A New Blog With Frequent Content « Akathisia: A Life In Motion — David Rosendahl

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