BlackRock’s Unlimited Time Off a Rarity for Finance Industry

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By Madison Alder and Kristen Ricaurte Knebel

Unlimited paid time off. It’s not a common benefit you’d expect to see in the finance industry. It’s one that BlackRock Inc. now offers its workers.

Unlimited time off is a popular benefit among technology sector companies such as LinkedIn Corp., Netflix Inc., and GrubHub Inc., but the innovative perk has yet to take flight in most other industries. Even for those companies that offer it, there’s not much evidence that employees with unlimited paid time off policies actually use it.

BlackRock joined a small number of finance sector employers offering unlimited time off with its rollout of a flexible time-off plan Jan. 1. The company said its commitment to technology was behind the decision to offer the benefit.

Only 2 percent to 4 percent of employers offer unlimited paid time off. The Society for Human Resource Management, an Alexandria, Va.-based group for human resources professionals, estimates that 4 percent of employers offer it. Project: Time Off, a Washington-based employee leave advocacy group, estimates the number of employers that offered unlimited time off in 2017 was lower than SHRM’s estimate, at about 2 percent.

“Overall, unlimited vacation can be great, but you have to work at it,” Katie Denis, chief of research and strategy for Project: Time Off, told Bloomberg Law.

Slow Increase

Unlimited paid time off has slowly increased over the past five years. In 2013, only 1 percent of employers offered it, according to SHRM.

The popularity of the benefit depends on the industry.

In the finance industry, 3 percent of employers offer unlimited paid time off, SHRM told Bloomberg Law.

The information sector, on the other hand, led the pack with about 8 percent of employers offering unlimited paid time off, SHRM said. The information sector was followed closely by the professional, scientific, and technical services sector, in which about 7 percent of employers said they offered unlimited time off.

Take It or Leave It

Project: Time Off estimates 662 million vacation days go unused each year.

Giving workers unlimited paid time off likely won’t make a dent in those unused vacation days. That’s because when companies implement unlimited time off, “employees tend to use the same amount of time or less,” Denis said. She added that it’s difficult to get accurate data on the use of the policies.

Kickstarter Corp., for example, launched an unlimited vacation policy but ultimately reverted to a more traditional model when employees didn’t use it, Denis said. Managers have to take the lead in reminding their subordinates to use their vacation time for the policy to be effective, she said.

Unlimited leave can work well for salaried employees, whose jobs usually come with discretion around the hours they work, Jeremy T. Tolley, chief people officer at on-site health care provider CareHere LLC, told Bloomberg Law. It can be harder to implement for hourly workers, he said.

At some companies, executive-level employees get unlimited leave, while rank-and-file workers don’t. This can create an “us and them” situation, Tolley said.

A benefit like this can also be troublesome if it appears some employees are taking advantage of the time off while others aren’t. Workers may “wear it as a badge of honor” that they had the opportunity to take unlimited leave but only took off a week. Others may feel they’ve overstepped their bounds if they’ve taken weeks off out of the year, he said.

Company Culture

The success of a policy like this may come down to whether the company culture ultimately supports the leave policy, Dan Ryan, founder of talent development firm Ryan Search & Consulting in Franklin, Tenn., told Bloomberg Law. One thing to think about is how the company will treat an employee if the person takes an extended leave.

“The company culture is either going to support this or it’s going to be seen as something people talk about but something people don’t ever take,” he said.

BlackRock didn’t respond to Bloomberg Law inquiries about the number of employees that would be eligible for the unlimited time off or its plans to implement the new policy.

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