Vacances à volonté, a rising trend of unlimited vacation days

Legal

vacation“Impossible, that would never work in France; don’t be so idealistic,” chided my friend with a dismissive wave of the hand. With a storied career rising through the ranks of a CAC40 firm and more recently a business owner, my friend knew a lot about managing people in a French workplace.

We were discussing a nascent but growing trend in the US and UK of companies offering a policy of unlimited holidays to their full-time staff. Yes, you read that right: unlimited vacation days. Take as much time off as you like, companies tell their employees. As long as you meet your annual objectives, we’re happy.

Too good to be true?

One could be forgiven for having such a first reaction. But this is exactly what companies like Netflix and frequent LeWeb participant Evernote, offer. The perk is genuine too, as the firms refuse to track holiday allowance. And according to them, the policy is not abused; it really works. As Evernote CEO Phil Libin told the Financial Times in an interview on the subject:

“Getting a job at Evernote is tough and people want to be there. If you take the attitude that being in the office isn’t a punishment, then spending days outside the office isn’t a reward.”

Could this ever work in France?

Maybe I am being too idealistic, but I’d like to believe that this concept could work in France too (I’m unaware of any serious implementation of this in France to date but would be delighted to hear if you know otherwise).

Granted, a number of systemic hurdles would need to be overcome. The largest may well be those of business culture. The relationship between management and employees in most French companies tends more toward adversial than collegial, or at least there’s a clear line of demarcation between management and staff. This institutionalized corporate hierarchy creates a practically uncrossable chasm for most employees. Why should an employee expend extraordinary effort if they don’t feel part of something bigger ? Worse yet, many companies exacerbate this two-speed system by depriving the proletariat of the very privileges that management might enjoy, be it stock options, flexible working hours, or heavens, even unaccounted holiday periods.

Stringent labor regulations will undoubtedly be cited in rebuttal. And although the recent labor reform accord between government and unions takes a step in the right direction, companies still face challenges and uncertainty in reducing headcount. What if, employers might ask, the employee turns out to be a bad apple and abuses our vacation policy?

I suppose the risk of abuse is slightly higher in a culture where people do not necessarily define themselves by their vocation. But I’d also like to believe that if a company embraces trust and empowerment of its employees, the vast majority of them will raise their game for the company. We just need a few early adopters to break the ice. The tech startup community strikes me as particularly well-suited to innovate here. Any takers?

5 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Adrien Châtillon

    I am a big believer of the ‘responsable management’ school of thoughts.
    ATM we are only 3 working and we have not onmy implemented the same unlimited holiday system but also flexible hours since we do not have a ‘open hours’ schedule. We are all free to come and go as we please and we are judge by the quality of our work and not the time spent at the office.

    We’ll see how it goes!

  2. Avatar
    unkbenz

    It would work but the employer would probably incur a liability if the hotel room in Ibiza has lead paint! Look it up on page 200000 of the code du travail!

  3. Avatar
    PhL

    Actually, that’s how we do it at WriteThat.name.

  4. Avatar
    Brad Patterson @ Kwaga

    I think this kind of policy reflects the amazing organizations that implement it— they are places people want to be, and places that the HR know how to pick winners to be on the team.

    That being said, coming from the states, I’ve ALWAYS been blown away at the amount of standard vacation for EVERYONE in France. Not that I’m complaining though 😉

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