Tech’s Unlimited Vacation Time a Scam?

With the holidays coming to a close, chances are a number of IT professionals are leaving unused vacation time on the table. A recent survey found working Americans will likely leave an average of 12 paid vacation days unused as they exit 2013 – a 30 percent increase from the year before, according to’s third annual American Travel Behavior survey.

VacationThese survey results bring into question the true value of the unlimited vacation time perk that companies are increasingly rolling out to lure highly sought after engineering talent. It sounds good on paper, but it may not really be fully utilized in the face of crushing deadlines for product releases.

Zynga, for example, offers an open vacation policy but scored only a 2.8 rating on employee review site Glassdoor for work-life balance. Netflix, which also offers unlimited vacation, scored a 3.3 rating.

A current Zynga software engineer on Glassdoor said: “Take vacation anytime.. doesn’t feel that open since there is nothing mandated, some people feel guilty taking time off.”

And one of Netflix’s senior software engineers groused: “Lousy vacation policy(get real, no vacation policy – no vacation), very stressful work environment, little to no career opportunities if you are hired as an engineer, Chaos everywhere – High Turnover always affects your work one way or the other.”

More Bait to Bite

Companies are increasingly offering unlimited vacation time and proudly touting it when recruiting employees. In fact, more companies are using this hook and lure to land engineers in this highly competitive market for talent.

An estimated 1 percent of companies in the U.S. offer unlimited vacation time to all their employees, while another 2 percent are eyeing the policy for possible adoption in the new year, according to a report in Business Insider, which cited figures from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

And there are other reasons for companies to offer unlimited vacation time beyond using it as a selling point for prospective employees. One potential benefit is avoiding having to payout unused vacation time should an employee or employees be terminated.

In a SHRM blog post, Dan Chammas, an attorney with Venable in Los Angeles, says, “Until more guidance is provided [by the courts], do not give your employees more vacation than you are willing to pay out.”

4 Responses to “Tech’s Unlimited Vacation Time a Scam?”

  1. A former colleague told a story about one of his previous employers having an unlimited vacation policy as well. However, vacation requests need to be approved by the manager, and if the manager doesn’t approve due to project deadlines, then too bad…

  2. Mick Marrs

    I once had a job interview early in my career where the hiring manager said the had flexible hours. So instead of starting at 8:30 and leaving at 5, I said great then I can start at 10 and leave at 6, (missing both morning and evening rush hour). There was silence and the mgr responded. “Ah… By flexible we mean you can start earlier than 8:30” … Badum dum.

    Still, I took the job because they seemed and were nice. Last good job I had and that was in ’95. Since then pay has gone up and so has the crap.

  3. Becky Roberts

    My former employer (Genesys, Daly City, CA) has an Open Vacation policy which touts that “you could take as much vacation as you needed.” The catch was that you had to get permission from your manager based on your work schedule and arrange for someone to cover for you. Effectively, this amounted to no vacation in a very stressful environment. And guess what, when the company decided to lay off employees, they were not on the hook for unpaid vacation time.

  4. Janon

    Just the latest exploitive corporate scam. Should be illegal, but we’ve traded our humanity for a corporatocracy. Funny that anyone can even keep a straight face “weighing the merits” Employees ALREADY cant and don’t use their vacation statistically. What the hell would giving “unlimited” time do other than make naive young idiots think they have something special and alleviate the company of all payout liability once they lay off the former young idiot who was foolish enough to turn 40?