Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


It's Time to Think Creatively About Vacations

Vacation policy can be a competitive advantage, not just a burdensome cost.

All too often in today's workplace, vacations have become less a source of enjoyment than a source of frustration. Or a battleground: a point of contention between employees and management.

Source: Sergei Gussev / Stocksnap
A creative vacation policy can help a company attract talent.
Source: Sergei Gussev / Stocksnap

Ample research, plus my own experience and observations, have convinced me that vacations have become more of a problem than they should be: All too often employees feel stressed if they don't take vacations and stressed about asking for one. And made to feel guilty about taking one. How long can I afford to be out of the office? What will happen to my projects? Will my manager be overburdened without me? Will my manager be angry at me? What should be in a well-balanced working landscape a welcome benefit often turns into a quagmire of conflicted feelings.

An "anytime" vacation

This is why organizations need to think more creatively about how they approach vacation time. This thought was triggered recently for me as I was reading an article in MIT's Sloan School Management Review on how some business leaders were dealing with employee stress and burnout.

Cindy McLaughlin, an executive with CarbonBuilt, was describing her organization's "anytime" vacation approach. "My staff is all remote, and we have an 'anytime vacation' policy," she said. "If they want to take an afternoon or a few days off for any reason, at any time, they're welcome to... We often talk about our lives outside work, give each other space where needed, and support each other through challenging times."

A powerful motivator

In a working world where a request for a day off can easily become a cause for management teeth-gnashing, the "anytime" concept struck me as a refreshingly radical option. Mind you, I'm not arguing that an option like this is always a possibility. For many jobs (e.g. assembly line work, customer service call centers) it's necessary to have a specific amount of coverage at very specific times. And I fully recognize that an anytime policy requires very capable, thoughtful management to administer effectively. All managers (if they want to remain managers) still have to deliver positive results in a timely manner, of course.

But my broader point here is the value of thinking creatively about how vacation time is offered. I believe management in general would be well advised to view vacations not merely as just another onerous business expense but as an extremely valuable benefit, a powerful motivator, and even a competitive differentiator. In a working landscape at times dominated by disengagement and burnout, where personal time is scarce and coveted, where work-life balance is elusive and highly prized, a well-conceived vacation policy should be an enticing "carrot" to attract prospective employees, rather than a source of conflict that frustrates them.

In short, there's value in viewing vacations not simply as a costly production problem but as a key element of the fabric of a company's culture, one that helps managers attract and retain the kind of bright, motivated people they most want.


Somers, Meredith (2023). How 7 leaders manage stress, burnout, and their employees' well-being. MIT Sloan School Management Review.…

More from Victor Lipman
More from Psychology Today