Unlimited holidays and the 4-day week: The future, or a fad?

The unlimited holidays concept has been quickly gaining traction over the last few years.

A never-ending amount of time to spend with your family, catching up on boxsets, and traveling. It seems genius, right? Especially in this current culture in which employee wellbeing is being given ever higher precedent.

More companies are realising the benefits of having happy staff for both company culture and recruitment, as candidates pick and choose their offers based on ever more competitive company benefits.

Netflix’s vice-president, Steve Swasey, says “if you’re spending a lot of time accounting for the time you’re spending, that’s time you’re not innovating.” Netflix was one of the first companies to embrace unlimited holidays, and they claim it’s worked wonders for them. But are unlimited holidays really the dream they seem?

In concept, they are. But while many companies have tried the policy with noble intentions, unlimited holidays could be being used as a sneaky way to squeeze more work from employees. The premise is based on the concept that if your work is complete, you are free to do whatever you like. But that is precisely the catch.

How do unlimited holidays work?

If you consider your workload, is there a definite beginning and end to your task list? If not, at what point is it acceptable to take a holiday?

In an environment in which most employees are overworked and putting in excessive amounts of overtime, it could be seen that the traditional holiday policy is the kinder option. Insisting that employees take a minimum number of days off, no matter how heavy their workload, essentially ensures that work-life balance is respected.

According to MoveMeon, “research shows that generally, unlimited holidays results in employees taking less time off.” It has also been observed that cultures with unlimited holidays sometimes unintentionally promote competitiveness regarding the number of holidays employees take.

If one employee takes more holiday than another, who is more likely to get that long-awaited promotion? The answer isn’t simple. It’s like trying to objectively analyse the results of a study with differing variables. It seems that the unlimited holidays concept proposes more questions than it answers.

So, if unlimited holidays aren’t the answer to our work-life balance issue, what is? As an alternative, some companies are introducing the 4-day week.

4 days. Instead of 5. An entire day of productivity less per week?

Well, it seems that it is the 4-day week which is proving to both boost profits, and employee morale. It works on a similar principle to unlimited holidays, in that it proposes that so long as the work is done, there is no need for workers to remain in the office.

However, with the 4-day week model, every employees’ rights and benefits are equalised. It embraces the increasingly popular idea that time spent in the office does not equal time spent being productive.

According to Forbes, “happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees.” If happy employees are 20% more productive, it makes sense that they should be able to achieve the same amount while working 20% less of the time.

A 3 day weekend each week leaves more time for employees to take care of their mental and physical wellbeing, making the workforce even happier, and making for a positive company culture.

So, how do the companies implementing the 4-day week say it’s working out for them? Radioactive PR report “that they achieved just as much – and there were even signs of growth.” As well as this, the rate of CV’s they’ve received since going to a 4-day week has increased dramatically, allowing them to have their pick of quality candidates in the market.

So, regarding talent attraction campaigns and productivity, the 4-day week looks like it could be the future. Although, this work model could only be considered an advantage for salaried roles.

So, what can we expect for the future?  

While there is no obvious answer to the work-life balance issue, the 4-day week model seems a definite contender. Either way, it seems we should be rethinking the working model. With technological advances over the last couple of decades simplifying so many work-related tasks, surely as a society we should be utilising these advances to enable us to live a better life, rather than using them to cram in more work?

The infiltration of these new ways of working poses relevant questions about what we now consider to be important, and how we can best prioritise life and work to maximise productivity.

Ultimately, what we need to ask is whether we live to work, or work to live. This doesn’t mean work isn’t or can’t be something that we enjoy, but with work-life balance having been so skewed in one direction, perhaps we are closer to advancing personal welfare as well as technological.