I recently read the book Outrageous Empowerment: The Incredible Story of Giving Employees Their Brains Back by Ron Lovett. Lovett makes the case for empowering people at all levels of an organization to use their brains every day and become a real part of the organization they work for, rather than just put in time. Lovett is a creative and fearless entrepreneur, and he is completely open about the things that worked and those that did not as he grew his company to epic proportions with an extreme focus on employee engagement.
Lovett claims that one of his most successful innovations – one that really worked – is that he gave people unlimited vacation time. He says that if someone is committed to being a great team member and to performing at a high level – and if they know what is expected of them – they will self-regulate their use of vacation time. You can then skip all the cost and complexity around tracking vacation days. To be clear, this did not apply to the hourly billable staff in his 1,500-employee security company. It applied to the management team from coast to coast.
I was floored at first by this idea. At IBEX/The Inclusion System, we are generous with our vacation days and we spend a lot of energy encouraging people to take vacations and days off. We encourage people to not overwork and to live a balanced life. But unlimited vacations? The thought never crossed my mind.
As I think about this more, the logic starts to make more sense. A few insights:
I am coming around to Lovett’s way of thinking. For unlimited vacations to work, you need to have a lot of great things in place. Once in place, the system will shine a light on where you have problems in terms of who is in what roles, how well expectations are understood and agreed, how leaders/coaches are treating their staff, and how well people are getting along. That’s all good. What would happen if you offered unlimited vacation time in your workplace?
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