Wednesday 26 October 2016

Think you've earned that time off from work? Think again

Published 13/10/2015 | 02:30

Phil Libin: 'Your job should be the main thing you identify with'
Phil Libin: 'Your job should be the main thing you identify with'

Treasure your holidays from work? Make the most of them while you can. Because your employer might soon be persuading you out of them. This week, one of Dublin's biggest tech employers changed its definition of what holidays mean. Linkedin, which employs more than 600 people here, now offers "discretionary time off" to staff rather than a "vacation".

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While the measure applies initially only to its US staff, tech multinationals like Linkedin usually roll such measures out across international bases.

So instead of getting a prescribed number of days off each year, you'll "work with your manager to request time off" when your work is satisfactorily completed.

In theory, this means unlimited time off. In practice, it probably means something very different.

Who among us feels our work is ever done? How much time off will a young staff member seeking a positive work review ask for?

Linkedin isn't alone. Asking staff to set their own holiday parameters is becoming a widespread practice in the tech industry.

Companies say that it encourages staff to finish the work they start. (Or, as Linkedin puts it, to "act like an owner".)

It also suits a certain type of workaholic.

"The main idea is that your job should be the main thing that you identify with," Evernote chief executive Phil Libin told this newspaper: "It's work-life integration."

But when staff at web giant Yahoo saw that Marissa Mayer took only two weeks' maternity leave while making it clear she was available for work during that time, they got a clear message. Conventional time off is not for ambitious people.

And this is the backdrop against which companies are now offering "discretionary" holiday periods from work.

"It's a race to the bottom instead of a race towards a well-rested and happy team," wrote Mathias Meyer, chief executive of Berlin-based company Travis CI.

"When people are uncertain about how many days it's OK to take off, they hesitate to take a vacation as they don't want to seem like that person who's taking the most vacation days."

Mr Meyer had to abandon his firm's 'unlimited' holidays policy as it was leading to chronic overworking and burnout.

Libin's Evernote has had to do the same thing, but with a twist: it now pays staff $1,000 to actually take their holidays. Other tech companies, facing similar problems with staff refusing to take time off, pay up to €6,500 extra for those who take a minimum number of holidays.

In a previous, more union-centric era, this issue would have been a black and white one. Holidays would be holidays in a context of 'workers' and 'management'. But a creeping new sensibility in the way we work is turning this into a much more complex issue.

It's not just that unions have abandoned any pretence of being interested in large swathes of the private sector.

But we have fostered a culture of hero-worshipping entrepreneurs, start-ups and (largely) US-centric work practices. Doing 60-hour weeks to become a 'rock star' employee on your company's 'disruptive mission' is part of this. 'Bootstrapping' may simply now involve giving up some of your time off.

"I've never had a job that requires such intensity and constant pace as the one I have now," said a friend of mine who works in a Dublin-based US tech multinational.

"I am grateful to have a job that affords me a certain lifestyle. But outside of work, I now have very little left to give."

My friend's workplace has the finest food canteen you'll ever see. It has on-site extra-curricular activities, fantastic benefits packages (such as top-level healthcare as standard) and is relatively well paid.

"It has been my personal choice to work in the role," he said.

"But there is now close to nothing left to give outside the standard working week. The tank is empty."

And his holidays are, in the words of Linkedin, now "discretionary".

Irish employees are already among the worst in Europe for working on holidays.

We check emails and answer texts more than almost anyone else.

Now, they're coming for the holidays themselves.

So if you're really satisfied that your project can't be improved, or that your workflow stack is exemplary, go ahead and take holidays.

Your colleagues may not ask for as much holidays as you do.

But don't let that stop you approaching your supervisor to make a case for your own time off.

And if you change your mind about a holiday, don't worry - we've got a brilliant canteen in the building. And we do yoga on Tuesdays.

Irish Independent

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