Blogs & Comment

The benefits of unstructured work and vacation time

How employers can get the best out of their staffers by setting fewer boundaries and offering unlimited vacation.

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Employees check emails on their iPhones during off-hours, and BBM from their BlackBerrys on the beach. The line between on the clock and on vacation was blurred long ago, and one company feels it’s time to formally acknowledge that fact.

Brian Halligan, author and CEO of HubSpot, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based marketing software company, wrote a blog post about the company’s new vacation policy. “Our new vacation policy is that there is no vacation policy,” he said. “No paid time off forms, no vacation rollover, nothing. If people want to take time off, they can take time off.”

No structure? Seems fair, considering companies don’t track the overtime worked by their employees in the evenings or on weekends when they’re busy emailing and messaging colleagues about projects. Plus, as Halligan points out, if you hire good people who are committed to their work, they’ll respect the system and enjoy the time off that they need.

And he’s not the only one advocating less structure. Author Daniel Pink recently spoke at the World Innovation Forum and noted that “carrot and stick” rewards aren’t good for encouraging innovation or creativity. Just as Halligan advocates unstructured vacation time, Pink thinks offices need more unstructured work time like employees at companies like Google, Atlassian and Intuit have. This makes workers happier, he argues, and produces better, more innovative work. 

One piece from MIT’s Sloan Management Review points to a study that illustrates this point: “Researchers presented 460 works of art from 23 visual artists to an independent group of evaluators. Each artist contributed 10 commissioned and 10 non-commissioned works. The results were striking. Though technically the commissioned and non-commissioned works were comparable, the commissioned works were judged to be significantly less creative.”

Interestingly, Halligan attributes his new idea not to the changing workplace of the future or the second tech boom, but as a way to revisit the offices of the past. “I have been watching Mad Men recently and it is remarkable how much corporate culture has changed in the last 50 years,” he says. “Many thanks to the producers of Mad Men who helped us look at the future through a unique lens.”