Life's a Beach: Seattle Company Offers Unlimited Paid Vacation

This week, Seattle-based social media company Social Strata said it will implement a revolutionary new leave system, starting immediately: All 13 full-time employees can now take as much paid leave as they want.CEO Rosemary O'Neill says she based this decision largely on the writings of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Built to Last. Collins outlines the benefits of a "Culture of Discipline": "Sustained great results depend upon building a culture full of self-disciplined people who take disciplined action."

The alternative, Collins argues, is the traditional, legalistic business structure that imposes strict rules on its workers, leading to a destructive spiral: "Most companies build their bureaucratic rules to manage the small percentage of wrong people...which in turn drives away the right people...which then increases the percentage of wrong people...and so forth."

O'Neill's announcement inspired one commenter to point out both the strengths and weaknesses of Social Strata's new plan. "Our employers treat staff like cattle. They herd them around moving them from field to field for no real purpose," he said, but also admitted, "I do work with some (very undisciplined) people that would be rubbing their hands with glee...and making preparations for 3 day working weeks!"

And therein lies the rub. O'Neill's plan requires two key elements: an employer/employee relationship based upon mutual respect, and employees with a sense of responsibility to one another. With these elements in place, an unlimited leave system could be highly productive. Along with ensuring that workers are consistently energized, it also conveys an appreciation for employees that would inspire greater loyalty and increased productivity.

In larger offices, with a more diffuse workforce, the program probably couldn't work. But Social Strata might be the perfect company for this experiment: Its tiny staff can establish a close-knit team mentality and a strong sense of worker responsibility. "Disciplined people will ensure that their responsibilities are handled, and still be able to recharge their batteries with time off," O'Neill wrote on the Social Strata blog. "Undisciplined people who take advantage of the system will reveal themselves and be naturally sorted out." In other words, those who aren't dedicated to the team may find themselves taking a very long vacation indeed.

I'll be eagerly awaiting updates on the company's blog -- especially because I couldn't reach anyone at the Social Strata office today.
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