Does your organization need a "no policy" policy?

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Daniel Pink published an interesting piece over the weekend in The Telegraph about Netflix's innovative corporate policy of not having a vacation policy.

Meaning, employees don't have a set number of days they get off each year, but instead can take vacation whenever they want. From the article:

At Netflix, the vacation policy is audaciously simple and simply audacious. Salaried employees can take as much time off as they'd like, whenever they want to take it. Nobody – not employees themselves, not managers – tracks vacation days. In other words, Netflix's holiday policy is to have no policy at all.

This may sound like a recipe for disaster to you, but it hasn't turned out that way for Netflix. In fact, as the rest of article highlights, not having a lot of corporate policies may be a fantastic strategy for engaging 21st century workers.

In the article, Netflix VP of Corporate Communications Steve Swasey calls rules, policies, regulations, and stipulations "innovation killers."

After spending 10 years in Red Hat, a company run the open source way, I couldn't agree more. In fact, Daniel Pink's conclusion halfway through the article that "freedom and responsibility, long considered fundamentally incompatible, actually go together quite well" was exactly our experience.

Early in my time at Red Hat, I participated in a project to uncover the corporate values, a process I outlined in a blog post last year.

The end result was a set of values anchored on one end by freedom and on the other end by accountability. We always depicted the four Red Hat values balanced on a fulcrum, like in the image below:

Red Hat values fulcrum

At Red Hat, employees were given a lot of freedom, much more than in any other company I'd ever worked for. Yet Red Hat also had a strong culture of accountability. What we found over the years (these values were first articulated back in 2002) would probably be counterintuitive to many people:

The more freedom the company gave, the more accountability it received in return.

We watched this play out over and over in different parts of the company. More freedom in a department = more personal accountability from employees in that department. Conversely, the less freedom, the less accountability.

Keeping this balance between freedom and accountability (and preserving the freedom side as the company grew) became a key part of the Red Hat culture, and, I would argue, the most crucial piece of our employee engagement strategy.

So Netflix, I salute you. Well played, indeed.

Red Hat never went as far as getting rid of its vacation policy, but at my current company, New Kind, we've never had a vacation policy, and after reading this article and taking a quick partner vote today, we probably never will.

Maybe New Kind will even go a step further and enact a "no policy" policy of our own.

Do you have any stories where removing policies and increasing employee freedom actually increased accountability? If so, I'd love to hear them.


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Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)


Do you think that the usefulness of this idea differs based on company size? Most corporate policies exist so that there's a guidance for differing opinions. Does a no-policy policy open up the company to "you didn't say it was wrong to do that" lawsuits after having to fire someone?

In my view, company size has a huge bearing on how easy it is to successfully implement this sort of policy (or non-policy, or whatever:).

Company age may be even more important. Companies that have been around a long time typically have entrenched cultures where changes like these are hard to make. In a younger company like Netflix (or Red Hat or New Kind for that matter) it is often much easier (but still has plenty of challenges).

The right way to think about it might be:

Start with the idea that we want to have no policies or almost no policies, then ask yourself which places do we absolutely *have* to create a policy for risk/legal/other reasons. And we only create policies there.

So we default to having no policies rather than having policies. Pretty different strategy than most companies use today, I would think.

I would point out that Netflix is a company with a market cap of around $7 billion and almost 2000 employees. So my guess is they have seen, and figured out ways to address, problems like the one you mentioned.

IBM has the same policy and it's been working just fine for them.

In discussing this topic, particularly in the context of organizations with highly motivated, high performing employees, I think it's also important to look at this question -- how do you encourage your people to take *enough* vacation?

Just because a formal vacation policy is eliminated does not automatically mean that everyone will take enough time off to recharge their batteries and to reconnect to things outside of work. In fact, some people will choose to take less time off than they might otherwise, leading to them burning out.

So if a company is going to eliminate a formal policy on vacation (which I agree can be an excellent idea, in the right environment), it's all the more crucial for managers and senior individual contributors to model healthy vacation-taking behavior themselves.

But in practice, I wonder if this leaves people working under workaholics or other negative personality types in a bind. Any time you try to arrange a vacation, you could get The Look that tells you're not a "team player." And taking a real, two week vacation creates a big burden on your co-workers, which people generally deal with because they know they will receive a two-week break of their own. But if you work with people who would only do long weekend getaways under this policy, there is pressure not to take the kind of vacation you'd prefer.

I guess I just suspect that for many underlings, no vacation policy would quickly turn into an informal "no vacations" policy. Or you'd have people like my husband, who would never take more than a day or two off, because he would be far too anxious about whether his boss or other coworkers would think he was slacking off. These kinds of unpolicies often work better for managers and those working under easygoing managers than they do for the average worker.

I'd rather see a policy that requires workers to take x days per year off work specifically for vacation, and allows them to take time off the rest of the year as they see fit.

Or at least have some anonymous recourse for workers who can't seem to get away.

definitely agree, the culture has to be right for this sort of thing to work well. in the hands of the wrong manager, a no-vacations policy becomes a huge issue for the workers themselves, as you've pointed out.

if an org doesn't have the right culture to support a true no vacations policy/non-policy, I think your idea might be exactly the one to implement... *minimum* required vacation days. That'd protect the workers, but still provide some of the autonomy that might help employee engagement.

I have used a concept called "policy attribution" successfully for many years. The basic concept is that I do not care for policies because they invariably are cast too wide or narrow and are often mis-interpreted or mis-applied as to contradict the original intention (reminds me of the U.S. legislature). Instead, on the day of hire I tell people "Be ethical. Work hard. And don't do anything stupid.". Then I explain that if anyone on the team does something that forces me to create a policy, then that policy will be named after them. For example, one time I received an expense report with a four digit cellphone bill so I create the "Cameron Frye cellphone expense policy" (name changed to protect the guilty). Everyone on the team knew exactly who they had to "thank" for this policy. As you might suspect, I never had to create another policy named after "Cameron" again. I found this approach to be extremely effective at maintaining personal accountability and ensuring proper behavior without an inch-thick policy manual.


but human matters depend on human......
i mean traditions, culture , etc would come into play in this topic....

but i do agree......freedom is good......if the people is good......and if the people are willing to be good.......cause sometimes human are not willing to be

As someone who is involved in multiple engagements ranging from family (wife, kid, 4 dogs), work (Red Hat,, Drupal), and community (neighborhood, local & state government)--I enjoy the flexibility that my career offers me. From working remote, to traveling, to "shifting" a typical day, this freedom allows me to accomplish things that are interesting to me, whatever the next day might hold.

I think your "no policy" policy is more about <em>freedom with guidelines</em> than anything else. When you give people freedom, anchored with accountability, I think, 9 times out of 10, you'll get better results. The work will be done on-time, if not sooner, and there will be more passion behind it.

Another analogy might be that opt-in is better than opt-out. If I have the choice to opt-in to something whether it's an email newsletter, a task force / committee, or a work project, most likely, it's because I <i>want</i> to do it, not because I'm forced to or feel obligated.

To take it to the next level, perhaps you're suggesting that as companies grow and cultures adapt, "no policies" turn into freedom with guidelines, that eventually turn into polices.

Great theme.
On Vacation Policy in Netflix see an earlier blog by Henry Blodget:
Also a reply of a co-author of "Freedom, Inc." book Brian Carney:
"Freedom, Inc.", which came out in the fall 2009 with Crown Business, is the most profound book describing how a dozen CEOs built companies based on freedom and responsibility. All companies have outstanding performance and their people are happy. And it goes for decades...

Reminds me of the research done in Europe on the use of speed limit signs in urban settings. When signs were removed, researchers found that drivers exhibited caution and slowed their vehicle speed. I concur that freedom to choose can create more accountable/responsible behavior. I tend to view policy manuals as crutches that are employed, when needed/desired, to eliminate bad or under-performing employees.

I just can't quite see the same happening in American cities, but I guess you never know unless you try it. I'm just thinking that my neighborhood and street have no speed limit signs (the limit is 25mph) and people fly through here like maniacs. :)

Although I think few organizations (read leaders) have the courage to make such radically right movements, the ones that do will be driving the the success stories that we keep hearing about.

Thank you for sharing this!!

if this were to be set here in the Philippines, it will be abused by the employees.

Did you happen to hear the NPR program about this that aired recently? Pretty cool...
"Unlimited Vacation Time Not A Dream For Some"

I have two points of contact .. personal and 2nd hand....

In my case, my employer decided to adopt a policy similar to that described for Netflix on 1/1. Take a reasonable amount of time off at your convenience. This was part of grooming the company to be acquired (at a hugh loss). Because of project activity and family plans, I didn't take any vacation until after the company was acquired on 7/1. The acquiring company had a rigid vacation plan which resulted in a battle royal to not be charged under their plan for time I could have taked before 7/1 except for my loyalty.

The second example involves Netflix ... second had for sure ... I have a good friend whose brother-in-law work(s/ed) for Netflix. He found it very difficult to take time off in the face of project pressure, etc. Canceled at least one planned 3 week family trip to europe.

On the otherhand ... when I worked for IBM, the sick leave policy was quite simple. You could take as much as 6 months with no more than medical documentation of the need. 6 months more was almost guaranteed at management discretion if recovery was reasonabaly expected. Otherwise, there was a generous disability plan, etc. In 25+ years under than plan, I was never aware of any employee abuse because there was no sense of ownership from accrual.

It also helps a lot if people actually like their jobs, have a real interest in seeing that the work is done in a timely manner, and there is a large amount of trust between management and labor. This cannot work with the traditional lords-and-peasants business model (which isn't going away any time soon, like it or not), but there are other models.

If the company forms with a particular culture and that culture is both respected and expected, new hires will adopt and conform to that culture. It is simply expected of them. If they abuse something like this vacation non-policy, they likely aren't covering their responsibilities and won't remain - either they'll finally adapt, or they'll be fired.

Unless too many people are hired too quickly.

As a friend described it, it's like a see-saw: many employees invested in the company culture keeps one end down. New hires drop into the seat on the other end, and slide down into that culture. Drop too many new people onto that seat - see-saw flips, and the company culture changes.

Personally, I like both freedom and responsibility.

I would love to work in a company that had this sort of approach to the levels of trust placed in their people, but having worked in places that were the diametric opposite of this, I have just one question.

How would they stop someone taking every day off?

If this became generally done, I can guarantee that at least one person would attempt to do this. Bear in mind that the old days of mutual respect and loyalty the company have been pretty thoroughly Thatchered, Blaired and now recessioned out of us Brits. The reflex response to the boss impugning your loyalty to the company would be to query the level of loyalty the company has for us; and given some of the disgusting stunts I have seen pulled over the last few years, that is a very fair question in a great many cases. Long gone is the open acknowledgement that the companies greatest asset is the people it has working for it. They have no value on the balance sheet or asset register, so they have no value in a stock swap, so they have no value at all. They are simply sheeple that you would prefer to just pack into a recharging booth overnight and would be much happier not having to pay at all.

When I was at Red Hat, I once had a very senior executive ask me how "freedom" could be one of Red Hat's four core values. His question was very similar to yours: "If freedom is a core value, couldn't an employee say that s/he was going to exercise this freedom and not ever show up to work?"

My answer? One of the other four values at Red Hat is accountability-- and freedom and accountability balance each other out. Meaning, employees had plenty of freedom... as long as they balanced this freedom with accountability-- to shareholders, to the company, and to other employees. And employees holding each other accountable can be a pretty powerful force.

I expect the situation you've brought up would be pretty common in a culture where employees were not respected as more than "sheeple" and where there wasn't a culture of accountability. Might be a disaster, in fact.

I suspect a no policy policy will only work in cultures where companies respect their employees and pride in doing your best work all of the time is a given...

So I guess this sort of policy would only have any chance of working in a company that already has a totally different internal culture to that seen in the bulk of companies; this side of the pond at least (UK). It sounds fantastic, but I can just see the response of the inmates at the average "Town Hall" meeting, where this is announced. I suspect the nurse would need to be on hand to handle cases of auto-asphyxiation due to excessive laughter. We have been too used, for too long, to being valueless resource drains, in the company's opinion at least, for this to be taken seriously.

Hi Andy--

As my favorite fortune cookie fortune once said "All is not *yet* lost."

Revolutions have to start somewhere. All it takes is a handful of companies like Netflix, treating their employees with respect and seeing success as an outcome, for something like this to become a respected organizational strategy.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about what could be... and for me (and for my company New Kind) this "no policy policy" idea is exactly the sort of thing we like to test out.

For us, its working pretty well, I'm happy to say! Maybe in a few years, there'll be more companies in your part of the world designed in such a way that a no policy policy could thrive.

I hope so!

Typical corporate culture on this side of the Atlantic is no different than what you describe (it's what I call "Lords and Peasants") and in such a culture, the sort of employee discretion we've been discussing is bound to be abused. But as I stated in my previous post, there are other cultural models, and the creative minority can give themselves a competitive edge in the job market by linking employee freedom and accountability.

Not all employers can do this, and not all workers are mature enough to be trusted with it, but there is a large potential mutual benefit for employers and workers who can.

<p>I was just reading The Thank You Economy ( by Gary Vaynerchuk. At his company, Vaynermedia, he does not have a vacation policy.</p><p>He is passionate about team building so no one can work from home on a regular basis. Project managers must be in by 9am (to service customers) and execution team by 10:30. He lists two things the make employees happy:</p><p>1. Treat employees like adults</p><p>2. Meet the employees individual needs</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

<p>I find this no policy for vacation idea fascinating. I am now asking people if they know of other companies with no policy on vacation. A colleague mentioned :</p><p>"Our new vacation policy is that there is no vacation policy, no paid time off forms, no vacation rollover, nothing. If people want to take time off, they can take time off."</p><p></p><p>What are other companies with no policy for vacation?</p>

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