How IT teams navigate unlimited vacation policies

IT leaders from Akamai, CA Technologies and VMware have mastered the balance between granting time off and keeping essential tech functions staffed.

Take as much time off as you'd like, so long as you get your work done.

That's the idea behind unlimited vacation policies -- a workplace perk growing in popularity among U.S. companies, particularly those in technology fields. This model is attractive both to employees, who cite it as a valuable benefit, and companies, which stand to save big money by switching to it.

Some 45% of respondents to Computerworld's 2016 IT Careers survey said that unlimited vacation time would entice them to change companies. This ranked far ahead of any other work-life perk, including paid sabbaticals, extended parental leave and on-site childcare.

Businesses benefit, too, by avoiding the administrative costs associated with managing employees' vacation time -- not to mention the financial liability associated with employees' accrual of unused vacation time, which typically must be paid to an employee in a lump sum if she leaves the company. The average vacation liability for U.S. companies amounts to $1,898 per employee, according to an analysis of public companies' 2014 SEC filings conducted by advisory firm Oxford Economics on behalf of the U.S. Travel Association.

But while those reasons alone may be good enough for some companies to consider the switch, it doesn't work everywhere, according to Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Companies that have successfully transitioned, he says, foster a workplace culture in which management trusts employees and vice versa, with clear two-way communication about expectations.

These characteristics are even more important within IT departments, which must navigate unique challenges: IT teams need to make sure that technology projects still launch on time and that help desks stay staffed year round -- all while affording their employees equal opportunity at time off.

Maintaining that delicate balance isn't always easy for IT managers. Here's how CIOs at Akamai, CA Technologies and VMware successfully maneuver unlimited vacation time, plus tips to make it work for you.

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