Unlimited Vacation Time Not A Dream For Some Unlimited paid leave sounded like a crazy idea to small-business owner Rosemary O'Neill's employees when she announced the policy early this year. The company has joined a tiny but growing group of U.S. businesses -- including Netlfix -- offering unlimited vacation.
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Unlimited Vacation Time Not A Dream For Some

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Unlimited Vacation Time Not A Dream For Some

Unlimited Vacation Time Not A Dream For Some

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's Jennifer Ludden, just back from her own, measly two weeks off, explains how this can possibly be real.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: I know, it sounds crazy.

ROSEMARY O: And when I said unlimited paid leave, no strings attached, there was a moment of - are you punking us? Is this a joke?

LUDDEN: That's Rosemary O'Neill, and it wasn't a joke. She and her husband own Social Strata, a social media company in Seattle. Early this year, they wanted to help an employee in crisis. Their financial officer was struggling to care for a badly injured husband and keep up her work. So the O'Neills talked about letting her take off whatever time she needed. After all, she was a hard worker. They trusted her. Then, they realized that was the case with all of their 10 employees.

NEILL: My husband, Ted, said, well, why don't we just do it for everybody?

LUDDEN: That was a Friday. They called a Monday morning meeting and, as Rosemary puts it, dropped the bombshell. O'Neill says the new policy is about a lot more than just letting employees spend August on the beach.

NEILL: People have lives, and we want them to be able to - I don't know - take a pottery class or go to their child's play, or help a relative who's sick.

BRIAN LENZ: Everybody's a doubter - like, oh, that can't really be true.

LUDDEN: Brian Lenz is Social Strata's senior software engineer. He was grateful for the new policy when he became a father in February.

LENZ: And I took six weeks off for that, so that was a real blessing just to be able to have that time with my wife and daughter, that bonding experience.

LUDDEN: But Lenny Sanicola suspects something more. He's with the human resources group WorldatWork, which surveys company benefits. Sanicola is struck that with all the perks being cut this recession, vacation time has held its own.

LENNY SANICOLA: Perhaps not being able to provide other rewards, some companies said as long as the work gets done and the productivity that we are looking for is achieved, you don't have to track your time, and you can take unlimited leave.

LUDDEN: The movie subscription service Netflix has had unlimited leave for a decade.

STEVE SWASEY: I personally am enthusiastic about my job, and I don't mind checking my BlackBerry when I'm climbing ruins in Guatemala and Honduras, which I've done.

LUDDEN: But Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey says that's not a company requirement. He calls traditional vacation, and that whole 9-to-5 workday, a relic of the industrial age.

SWASEY: We have instances of engineers who work pretty much around the clock because that's the way they work, and then they take two months to go visit family in India. And that's fine. We have instances of people who never take a vacation for three years, and then take a 90- day trip someplace. But they've earned it.

LUDDEN: At Social Strata in Seattle, yes, there are still people in the office. Time off is managed around work and deadlines. And Rosemary O'Neill says this vacation season doesn't seem much different than last - almost.

NEILL: Well, I took a longer vacation than normal.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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