Rewarding Manic Performance With Unlimited Time Off

by Aman Singh Das | August 18, 2010

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On Monday, I discussed the latest WorldatWork survey that reports a whole 1% of U.S. employers are now offering unlimited paid time off as of 2010. As I mentioned, one of these companies is Netflix, who has had this policy in place for a decade.

However, after writing the post, this paradox continued to bug me: How does a companybetter known for cultivating a culture of high performance and the motto"Smart people, hard problems," embrace unlimited vacation days?

Several points to consider:

1) Rewarding the Efficient: A NPR report quotes Netflix's VP for CorporateCommunications Steve Swasey putting it this way: "We have engineers who work prettymuch around the clock because that's the way they work. And then they take twomonths to go visit family in India. We have people who never take a vacationfor three years and then take a 90-day trip someplace. But they've earnedit." Sounds fair.

2) Cultivating a Manic High Performance WorkCulture: A slideshow featured in the BusinessInsider recently by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings allowed rare insight intothe company's corporate culture. And one that attracted a lot of controversy. Theintroductory slide proclaimed: "Greatworkplace is Stunning Colleagues, Not day care, espresso, sushi lunches, niceoffices, or big compensation."

Third slide: "Unlike manycompanies, we practice 'adequate performance gets a generous severancepackage'."

Fourth slide: "We're a team,not a family."

The presentation goes on for another10 slides that alternatively preached loyalty, dismiss hard work overeffectiveness, and allege preference for compensating people for speed insteadof hours spent, and finally a no-tolerance policy for "brilliantjerks." With a high premium onout-of-the-box geniuses, is there any room for the adequate, hardworking andloyal employee?

3) A lean organization which operates on openness,approachability and honesty: Netflix has been managed by the same talentchief since 1998--the same year Hastings founded the company. While her longtenure can attract questions on lack of new thought, old management style,etc., for Netflix, this has worked in their favor. And it is Patty McCord'semphasis on a lean organization that in part has helped make the moviesubscription service a $1.6 billion (2009) company.

Her hiring standards were alwaysnontraditional. Explaining that she only hired "fully formed humans,"McCord expanded in an interview with Human ResourceExecutive Online:

"For me, fully formed adults are people whofollow the business, understand what their companies' annual revenues are,follow the stock and follow the press. When I interview someone who's verysmart technically but lacks intellectual curiosity, or someone who hasn't fullyresearched us prior to the interview, then that's a no-go. I need people whonot only are functionally expert at what they do, but comprehend the businessitself so they can plug their talents directly into the organization--reliable,upstanding adults who can talk straightforwardly about their contribution tothe business. I also focus on their experience--what they learned and didn'tlearn."

Unlimitedvacations days then fit right in for a company that values employees whocan manage their own time. And sets a premium on efficiency and innovation. However,there is no one size fit all in the world of human resources, and offeringunlimited time off might not result in increased productivity and a happyworkforce for global companies with thousands in employee count.

Let's be realistic: There aren't enough geniuses in theworld to fill every job position. If that means balancing the manic performerswith the merely adequate employees who value hard work and loyalty, so be it.

As for our role as informed professionals, a premium onefficiency is hardly asking for too much. Thoughts?

Filed Under: CSR

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