Starting this week, Miovision – a traffic data company with customers in 50 countries and a fixture in the Waterloo Region tech scene – will offer unlimited vacation to all employees. But as this Wall Street Journal piece asks, “is it a dream, or is it a nightmare?”

This video voices a growing concern about unlimited vacation, sparked in part by Kickstarter’s famous decision to axe the policy last year when it found employees weren’t taking anywhere near enough vacation thanks to some very old fashioned problems: the groupthink, shame and social pressure that set in when everyone eyes everyone else’s time off.

For Kurtis McBride, co-founder and CEO of Miovision, unlimited vacation is only a problem if you’re doing it wrong. Or, as Sue Shellenbarger answers the “Heaven or Hell” question in the video above, “it depends where you work.”

“This policy is about respecting people as individuals,” says McBride. “This is possible for Miovision because we’ve already done the hard work of building a culture of empowerment that treats the people who work here here like responsible adults. If you have to babysit and watch over an employee about their time off, either you’ve failed as a boss or they have as an employee.”

Some of the Miovision team, set to enjoy unlimited vacation this week.

Some of the Miovision team, set to enjoy unlimited vacation this week.

This level of trust, while refreshing, seems ripe for abuse. But McBride isn’t worried:

“Following passion and fighting complacency has been a front-and-centre core value for so long, we’ve filled the company up with the kinds of people who are individually passionate about what they do. That gives us confidence that we can do this without seeing an empty office six months of the year. The people here have their own goals they’re working hard to achieve; they don’t need vacation police watching over them.”

But what exactly inoculates Miovision against the problem of hard feelings back at the office while others take a well-deserved break?

“One of the things we’ve talked a lot about internally is that this is a minimum vacation policy more than an unlimited vacation policy,” McBride clarifies. “There’s still very much an expectation that everyone in the company will be taking the minimum amount of vacation. But, if someone wants to take a long hiking trip through the Himalayas and have that experience without losing their job, they have that flexibility.”

Flexibility and agility are also core values cemented in Miovision’s culture, further distancing the company from unlimited-vacation critics: “We let teams and individuals operate like amoeba. We call it a nodal structure,” says McBride. “People can flow from team to team, space to space, in a way that lets them respond to the unique challenges of each piece of work, and empowers them to make decisions about where to best spend their time.”

The Miovision team at a meeting in their Waterloo Region headquarters.

The Miovision team at a meeting in their Waterloo Region headquarters.

Or, in other words, it’s hard to watch where your co-workers spend their time when you didn’t know in the first place.

While it sounds like Miovision strikes just the right balance of culture and smart policy to make unlimited vacation work, McBride’s advice for other companies looking to implement the policy is simple:

“Have the courage to trust your staff. If someone can take 50 weeks of vacation a year and still get it all done, that’s great. I hope they’ll teach me how they do it.”

About The Author

Phil Froklage
Digital Journalist/Multimedia Producer

Phil Froklage is a writer, filmmaker and journalist in Waterloo Region obsessed with the future. Passionate about science and technology — and how it shapes our world — Phil likes nothing more than being surprised by the amazing things human beings can do.