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The smoke and mirrors of unlimited paid time off

By | Bryan Lufkin |

Having as much holiday as you want? Sounds great – until it’s not.

Investment-banking firm Goldman Sachs made an eye-catching move last week: it granted unlimited paid holiday to its senior staff.

According to a memo seen by a number of media organisations, partners and managing directors will be able to “take time off when needed without a fixed vacation day entitlement”. Junior staff were given two more annual days off, and the company said all workers had to take a minimum of 15 days holiday each year.

At first glance, this looks like a positive initiative from a company known for gruelling work hours and demanding culture. Unlimited paid time off (UPTO), after all, could allow overworked staff more time to rest and improve their mental health and overall work-life balance. Plus, a generous holiday policy at the top could trickle down into the wider workforce, potentially making for happier and more productive staff on the whole.

Yet what sounds like an amazing benefit comes with major caveats. Workers will likely only take a decent amount of holiday if firms create an environment that encourages them to do so. In some firms with UPTO, workers end up taking less holiday – not more – because of peer pressure and perceived expectations around ‘acceptable’ amounts of holiday.

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