‘Unlimited didn’t exactly mean unlimited’: A U.K. recruitment firm scraps unlimited leave after finding it gave employees anxiety

May 19, 2022, 9:42 AM UTC

Even as major companies embrace the idea of unlimited leave to woo talent, one U.K. firm is ditching the practice after finding that the policy actually caused more employee burnout, as staff felt too anxious to dictate their own schedules.

In a LinkedIn post published Tuesday, Ollie Scott, founder of U.K. recruitment firm Unknown, said that the company was scrapping its unlimited leave policy and will now grant everyone a flat 32 days of paid vacation. 

“No one took more than 21 days a year,” Scott wrote, noting that the unlimited leave policy did not actually encourage people to take more holiday. In the U.K., virtually all workers are legally entitled to a minimum of 28 days paid vacation, which means that Unknown’s workers may have actually taken less time off under an unlimited leave policy than they might have done with a set leave policy. 

(While the U.S. does not set a statutory minimum for paid leave, private sector workers had an average of 10 days of paid leave after one year of employment in 2017, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.) 

Unlimited leave—giving employees the flexibility to take time off whenever they want and not limiting them to a set number of vacation days—is a popular benefit in the tech sector, with companies like Netflix and Salesforce adopting the practice. And Americans say they want it—a Harris poll for Fortune conducted in February found that half of U.S. workers would accept a lower salary in exchange for unlimited time off.

Non-tech firms are also starting to embrace the idea of unlimited leave, with investment bank Goldman Sachs letting its senior managers “take time off when needed without a fixed vacation day entitlement” starting from May 1, according to an internal memo.

Yet workers in firms that offer unlimited leave have complained that a lack of clear expectations can discourage people from exercising their right to take a vacation. Goldman Sachs seems to have recognized this problem, as the bank will also mandate that, by 2023, employees spend at least three weeks per year away from their desks, including one consecutive five-day period.

Scott wrote that, for Unknown, unlimited PTO created “a general anxiety of ‘yeah but like, actually how much [leave] can I take?’”

“Unlimited didn’t exactly mean unlimited,” noted Scott.

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.

Read More

Great ResignationCompensationReturn to WorkCareersLaborSuccess Stories