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Programmers sometimes get a little burned out and a little vacation can help. It used to be many hi-tech companies give 10 vacation days and 10 sick days per year. But in recent years, I have seen vacation and sick days combined to become Paid Time Off (PTO). Each year may be 15 days or 12 days. (plus 1 floating and 9 fixed holidays such as Thanksgiving, Xmas, and New Year day) (Update: California doesn't not require any sick day for any company at all, so companies, to stay competitive, may not want to have sicks days and end up losing to other companies)

And then I know some companies have unlimited vacation time, such as Netflix or Zynga, but then an experienced programmer told me many VPs in hi-tech companies also have unlimited vacation, but because they are so busy, practically in a year, they don't take any vacation at all. It is also a bit strange that if unlimited is the policy, then what if Peter wants Dec 1 to Jan 1 for Xmas vacation, and John wants Nov 20 to Jan 1? How do people decide what is fair if they can decide the length when it is unlimited?

It resembles a little bit like program such as FTP, where if the bandwidth is set to 300k/s, then it is 300k/s, but when it is set to 0, that means it is unlimited. So "unlimited" in this case is also the same as "zero". I'd like to find out how it is in different companies? Is your company or your post or what you hear about unlimited vacation and how it is like in real practice?

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8 Answers

The benefits of living in Europe (Belgium).

I have 20 vacation days a year. Plus 6 extra days because I work 39 hours a week instead of 38. So a total of 26 paid vacation days.

Only 10 vacation days? The horror! Go move :)

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that's interesting because how do you distinguish working 39 vs 38 hours in a week? Does that include lunch time? Nowadays I find that in USA, people really do work 8 hours as it is common to buy lunch and eat at the desk a lot... and 10 to 6pm means it is 8 hours, although many people work 10 to 7 or 11 to 8 or more, plus working at home. –  動靜能量 Oct 15 '10 at 18:03
    
9-12 & 12-18. And an hour for lunch (12-13). Friday we get to work one hour less. We do have variable hours. We can start at 7 and stop at 16. –  Carra Oct 15 '10 at 18:05
    
As good as that sounds, I don't think I'd like this kind of "time counting" stuff. Like, watching the clock with how long lunch takes, etc etc. But yes, 10 days is way too little. We get 20 in Australia too. :) –  Bobby Tables Nov 7 '10 at 21:07
    
@Bobby: It doesn't necessarily work that way. The 39 hours are officially worked hours, but depending on the employer there can be a loose attitude towards start and stop time, so that in practice people end up working fewer hours or more. –  Joeri Sebrechts May 1 '11 at 20:12
    
Generally, in countries with such rigid minimums, programmers are paid well above the minimum, and there is plenty of variation in salary among them. Therefore employers still have enough opportunities to reward programmers based on their true contribution. –  MSalters May 2 '11 at 12:10
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In the UK I don't think that's legal, to merge holiday with sick days. (I am not a solicitor or barrister)

In every job I've had (programmer or not) sick leave has been up to 5 days without a doctor's note, and this is not limited to 5 days a year, just 5 consecutive days. With a doctor's note I don't know as I've not had to go down that route.

So holiday is calculated separate to sick leave. I guess there are EU regulations UK businesses have to follow with regard to that.

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yeah, california is a state that has no law to require sick days... –  動靜能量 Oct 15 '10 at 19:09
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In Germany, you usually have between 20 and 40 days and as many sick days as you are sick, although you always need a doctor's note for that. –  back2dos Nov 7 '10 at 16:17
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What it means is that they are really given unlimited vacation. But they are also given something more important: A purpose.

You see, software developers are people who need a lot of motivation and focus. It is extremely unefficient trying to force a developer to work if he can't, because for example he has personal things to attend to. This works with coal miners. Not with programmers. For programmers, it's the best way to provoke burnouts.

Some companies understand that. They hire talented, ambitious and motivated people and they give them a job where they can evolve, excell and gain fullfillment. Giving people freedom and treating them with respect is one of the best way to keep that level of motivation and often leads to the point where they don't want or need holidays, because they actually enjoy their job, they are eager to get it done and to make it great. They don't need to get away from work to have some happyness in their life.

Unlimited vacation would never work in a company where people don't like their job, because people would be away all the time. However for companies that understand the value of a good morale, giving employees this freedom is a very valuable, yet extremely simple and often very cheap tool (if you give people 20 days of vacancies, they will use them or want them to be paid out) to maintain that good morale.

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Well said. I worked through Christmas weekend last year because I love to code and couldn't get the project off my mind. Not Christmas day, I do have a family. When you love what you do, money doesn't motivate. –  kirk.burleson Nov 7 '10 at 16:49
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+1. Nice answer. I've never heard of unlimited vacation time here in Australia. We get 20 days standard here. –  Bobby Tables Nov 7 '10 at 21:36
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@動靜能量: As I said: "Unlimited vacation would never work in a company where people don't like their job". Also what you speak of is not really programming, but a very mechanic task, that becomes quite unbearable, if the people you work for are pedantic and indecisive. The behaviour you describe clearly shows that your management has no respect for you. How I see that? You should really try hard to leave such work places. Not only is that sickening, but you're also implicitly supporting this rather feudal attitude. –  back2dos May 1 '11 at 7:39
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I won't downvote, because I agree with the sentiment, but in my experience places that offer unlimited time off have a culture that very much discourages taking any time off at all. There's always a high priority project in the queue, and there's never a good time to be taking off more than a day or 2. Just my n=2 experience: I've worked in one, and have a friend that worked in one. –  red-dirt May 1 '11 at 14:14
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On the want or need aspect, you never realize that you need a vacation until it's too late, and by then you've usually dug yourself into such a hole that a single vacation isn't going to let you climb back out. –  red-dirt May 1 '11 at 14:14
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I get 11 days: 10 vacation and my birthday. But more important to me is an understanding manager who doesn't get bent out of shape when daycare calls and I have to pick up my daughter and work from home the rest of the day. If my allergies are acting up, call in and stay home. My ex-manager was not this kind of manager and we butted heads quite a bit. To the point where I was considering leaving the company. Yeah, keep the vacation and give me a good, understanding manager!

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UK based here too. Where I work everyone gets 24 days holiday plus bank holidays (8 days) plus sick days (unlimited, but if I remember correctly after 5ish days you officially get 'statutory sick pay' which is virtually nothing - although they've not applied that limit to people that have been in hospital AFAIK).

10-12 days off a year - no thanks!

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In Bosnia the legal minimum for highly skilled workers is 18 days (you can arrange more in your contract), and you get (theoretically) unlimited sick days (you do need doctor's notice like in the rest of Europe).

There's also some other days off guaranteed by law (e.g. in total 7 days off for marriage), however employers can sometimes bend these rules because the state is not doing a very good job enforcing the work regulation (or any other regulation in this country for that matter).

I once knew a guy who was very diligently going to work with a sprained ankle (!) for fear of losing his job and the company manager did not send him home, which was a very, very heavy violation of work regulations here.

Speaking for myself, I always make sure that my employer understands very clear that I intend to use my guaranteed rights, no matter what the "company culture" is.

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Wow I guess that points out a cultural difference to me (I'm in the US), I've had a bunch of sprained ankles and never missed a day from them. It never occurred to me to stay home with a sprained ankle. –  HLGEM Nov 8 '10 at 14:28
    
@HLGEM - I wouldn't jump to a conclusion of cultural differences. I'm not saying you shouldn't do any work, because some years ago I was doing work for the then employer with a broken leg. However, I was still on my sick leave, and I was doing this work FROM HOME, and nobody even thought that I should be in the office. Re: the guy with sprained ankle, my point would be that he still could have done work from home, if it was really necessary, but the manager who didn't send him home when he stepped into the office was effectively breaking the local laws, and was lucky no one reported him. –  Jas Nov 8 '10 at 15:10
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Netflix is often held up as the poster child for this sort of vacation policy. I am so not convinced... Google "netflix turnover" and you may get the impression anyone who isn't a star performing workaholic doesn't last long there. I suspect not keeping track of vacations could be a way of hiding an ugly secret: that vacation taken is way below industry norms, although I'd be interested to see evidence otherwise.

BTW, believe it or not, in socialist Europe one of the jobs of HR departments is to keep tabs on employees and make sure they take a statutory minimum amount of holiday! (So these "we don't keep track of vacations" policies probably wouldn't be legal here).

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Here is Oz, it's not uncommon for people to accumulate ridiculous amounts of leave. We get 20 days a year, and sometimes you get workaholics who take virtually nothing for years and accumulate like 100+ days. Most companies don't like it, but it happens all the time. Australia is funny that way: in some ways like Europe, in other ways like America. We are laid back and have good "socialist" protections, but on the flipside - many people are utter workaholics, and it comes out in things like this. :) –  Bobby Tables Nov 7 '10 at 22:53
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I've worked in a place that had "unlimited" vacation... and you're exactly right about the culture. People that would be gone for a week at a time were looked down on, as "not caring" about the project currently in the queue. The thing is, there was always some big project in the queue, so a manager would always tell you that taking vacation now wasn't a good time. –  red-dirt May 1 '11 at 10:47
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Why would you want to hire anyone who isn't a rock star performing workaholic? –  Wyatt Barnett May 1 '11 at 15:19
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Germany: 30 paid vacation days plus a no. of state holidays. AFAIK the min. no of vacation days here is 25 days.

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yes, I do think that 25 days a year can be quite good, for people to rest, to travel to the mountains several times a year (or a couple times a year and travel to a couple of places), or relax and learn something new. That is "sustainable", and let people have a life, not a work machine. –  動靜能量 May 1 '11 at 21:36
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Plus you have to (be allowed to) take at least 11 of these vacation days on consecutive work days. And you get as many sick days as long as your doctor says you're sick. –  nikie May 2 '11 at 15:30
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