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Is Unlimited Annual Leave Too Good To Be True?

Pen and passport on notepad

Taking Time Off & Avoiding The Holiday Guilt Trip

What do you think of when you hear the term Unlimited Annual Leave? It sounds too good to be true, right? Here’s why unlimited annual leave does or doesn’t give employees the chance to take needed time off from work, and how you can avoid the holiday guilt trip that comes from vacation shaming.

One of my previous posts looked at vacation shaming and a few instances I’ve noticed it occur. Continuing from those observations, it got me thinking about unconventional time off policies that may or may not me more flexible around holidays and provide better alternatives to paid time off.

Let’s dive into why vacation shaming even matters in the first place, alternative approaches the the paid time off policy, and how to tackle vacation shaming. Time to start booking those trips!

Motivational message about warmth

Why Does Vacation Shaming Matter?

After looking at what vacation shaming is, I thought: “why does it matter?”. Ultimately, it shouldn’t. Vacation shaming is probably little to do with the person being shamed, and more about the person doing the shaming. Despite telling ourselves that, it can still be hard to battle negative feelings about being judged, compared, or shamed for our holiday choices.

Of course, holidaying in beautiful places is a HUGE privilege, and I hope one that is not overlooked by those fortunate enough to enjoy it. But even though it is a privilege, does that make it wrong? Or something to be guilty about?

To me, that would be like saying eating cake is wrong. Sure, cake’s an indulgence, but I enjoy it. It’s not hurting anyone, although I may feel a little guilty for eating it, but a little bit of something I enjoy makes me feel good. Now let’s say my friend is upset with me because I’m eating cake, and they’re not eating cake. That doesn’t sound right, does it? They might be jealous, but they could also eat cake if they wanted to take the necessary steps to eating cake. Because, contrary to popular belief, cake can be enjoyed by everyone.

Ok enough with the cakes, I’m getting hungry. But the point still remains, if we replace “holiday” with pretty much any other non-essential, harmless, but (mostly) universally agreed enjoyable activity or item, it quite frankly sounds ridiculous to deny it of anyone.

Most opinion pieces around vacation shaming focus on a work environment. These posts are frightening to say the least, highlighting the risks around reduced productivity and efficiency at best, and at worst, employee mental health. Forbes are a particularly great publication bringing light to this unfathomably silly phenomenon. This article in particular offers a few ways to help tackle vacation shaming at work.

pen and notepad on laptop

While the impact on working life is clear, all the articles I’ve read on vacation shaming agree that it negatively affects your personal life too.

Building relationships with loved ones, spending quality time together, broadening horizons, feeling connected with with the world, enjoying a hobby… All these important parts of life can be enhanced from a holiday and or time off from work. I like to think of it this way; if humans were mindless working machines, why do we even have weekends?! Or annual leave in the first place? We’ve been given 104 days off for weekends a year, plus bank holidays and annual leave. Let’s use it!

So, if vacation shaming is such a problem, what are the alternatives? Can an unlimited annual leave policy revolutionise the way we understand time off? Let’s see the benefits and disadvantages of other time off policies!

What Are the Alternatives To An Annual Leave Policy?

In trying to offer a counterargument to the concept of vacation shaming, and how companies are already tackling the issue, I came across a few additional considerations for alternatives to paid time off.

I thought about instances where annual leave doesn’t come into the equation at all. In the following situations, vacations might be highly encouraged or at the worker’s discretion, on the surface. Let’s see how possible it really is avoid vacation shaming for unlimited annual leave policies, freelancers, and workers with zero hour contracts.

Pen and purse on keyboard

Unlimited Annual Leave

On the other end of the scale to paid time off, we have companies who offer unlimited annual leave, also known as bottomless holidays. For some people, unlimited annual leave might be a good thing. It might suit their lifestyle and needs, they might be perfectly adept at staying focussed and professional alongside the holidays and time off they require to be that way. Others might abuse that system. And others, might be abused BY that system. Let me explain.

Some jobs are portable enough that unlimited annual leave (UAL) isn’t a problem because it simply fits around a nomadic lifestyle, whether that means you’re only partially based in an office, or simply have the freedom to take time off whenever you’d like. In those cases, UAL can be a great time off model!

Unlimited annual leave has many benefits such as promoting a result-based rewards system. Unlimited annual leave can also build trust between management and employees. In other scenarios, however, it’s more problematic and costly for the company to allow such activities.

For most of us, the words Unlimited Annual Leave sound like a fairytale dream that can’t really be true, surely?! But for those lucky enough to find it, there’s a risk of taking it too far.

2 trips a month? No problem, unlimited annual leave. Just need a quick long weekend getaway? Easy, unlimited annual leave. Want to really sink your teeth into a new country for a few weeks? Unlimited annual leave has your back. Sure, it might not always work like that, but when time off isn’t fully accounted for and tracked, what gaps are being left behind?

Unlimited annual leave has it’s own set of problems. It instigates the danger of encouraging a “work to impress” environment. The other way that unlimited annual leave can backfire is that the employee never takes that benefit. They might have been sold this progressive, forward-thinking company where unlimited annual leave is just one of the many perks of the job. However, in reality the workload is so high and the pressure always building that time off simply isn’t an option.

Writing in travel planner

Rather than taking time off that you are clearly entitled to, NOT taking time off becomes a competition. Who’s staying at work latest? Who’s there first in the morning? Who sits as their desk barely chewing down a cereal bar for lunch. This is in no way healthy for the sake of employees, or for the quality of their work. At least with set paid time off staff have to take their holidays whether they like it or not. Unlimited annual leave risks keeping staff playing the game indefinitely.

The problems with unlimited annual leave only seem to highlight that vacation shaming exists even in the blatant attempt to eliminate it. It’s the extremity of unlimited annual leave that makes me wonder whether an equilibrium needs to be reached; one where employees can be given the freedom to take time off when they feel it is necessary, without backlash for choosing to do so.

Freelancing & Self-Employed Workers Time Off

Moving onto workers who make their own hours, does vacation shaming still apply when you don’t even get ANY time off?! I know my fair share of freelancers and self-employed workers. Time off is a constant question mark. It’s more a matter of “if” than “when”. These are the jobs where office hours don’t apply. They can work all day every day if they choose to do so, and many do because hey, it’s another bit of cash right? This means no one is telling you (or telling you not!) to take your annual leave.

closeup of notepad and pen

For the self-employed, they are always going to be encouraged to take time off. Because if those around them don’t, then who will?! The problem is, they face exactly the same issues as those in UAL jobs. There will be a fear of being left behind. That even if you do miraculously get away and relax, you’ll have an even bigger pile of To-Dos waiting for you on your return.

Additionally, for some freelancers their regular gigs are the very reason they can afford anything in the first place. That Wednesday evening job isn’t always going to look too kindly on your wishes to take the next 3 weeks off. They could easily find a replacement who IS willing to suit their needs. In such a fiercely competitive landscape such as freelancing, taking time off can make or break your next client.

Zero Hour Workers

The last in our work situations that face vacation shaming without paid time off are zero hour contracts. I think many of us have been there at one time or another, whether it’s as a student, a filler job between career moves, working holidays, or a struggle to find something more suitable. Sure, some people prefer the flexibility of zero hour contracts! But, I would say the majority of those working these jobs often in hospitality or retail do not enjoy the lack of benefits on offer. One of those lacking benefits, is access to clear paid time off.

I’ve been there. I remember panicking about taking a measly couple of days off from my Uni summer job, purely because I worried about the chaos it might cause for the dreaded rota. Jobs that rely on zero hour workers are often very demanding shift hours that mean it’s every man for themselves. In my experience, taking time off isn’t at all encouraged.

Box with resilience embossed in gold writing

In the best case scenario you can swap a few shifts, or maybe get your manager to approve the holiday time. Worst case, they say “thank u, next” and get another poor worker to fill your spot (note: this would be illegal to deny holiday pay).  It’s pretty scary to think that you could lose crucial working hours because you’d like to take a (louder for the people at the back) necessary break to rest and look after yourself.

It’s pretty clear that vacation shaming exists for zero hour contract workers. This type of contract is probably the least flexible in regards to taking time off, possibly due to the logistical complications around covering shifts, varying work patterns, and complex accruing holiday hour calculations.

Now we’ve covered a few of the alternatives to paid time off that also face vacation shaming, how can we fight the problem and start planning AND booking our deserved breaks?

How To Tackle Vacation Shaming & Stop The Holiday Guilt Trip

Now that we’ve had a look at some of the reasons vacation shaming is important to resist and how it can even occur outside the traditional office environment, here are a few ways to help beat it and start taking much-needed time off.

  • Remind yourself vacation shaming may come from a place of jealousy. Not in all cases, but if you can take a step back and remember it’s likely not about you specifically, you might be able to confidently overcome it. The issue around annual leave is likely to be a wider one either about the person shaming, or about a general concern around holidays.


  • Know that you’ve earned your time off.  You should absolutely enjoy the holidays you’re entitled to! Vacation shaming might come at any stage of the vacation process. Once you’re past planning and booking, it could be difficult to really switch off even when you’re eventually on holiday.  It’s easier said than done, but try to avoid emails, checking messages, and worrying about being away. Be in the moment and congratulate yourself for your hard work!

Map with passport and pen

  • Stay alert of burnout warning signs. If you don’t take your annual leave, you could be at a significant risk of burning out. Burnout signs could include lethargy, regular health issues, low mood, poor eating habits, inability to focus or concentrate, an overbearing feeling of pressure or worry about your work performance, a sense of isolation… The list goes on. Be sure to monitor yourself and those around you for any triggers that you recognise as the start of burning out. And most importantly, talk to someone about. Better to speak up while you’re still able to fight and prevent burnout than get yourself deeper into a spiral of increasingly lower health and wellbeing.


  • Plan ahead. Structure dedicated time to plan your time off and set it aside. Don’t just procrastinate and avoid really planning out your trip, otherwise it might never happen! It can be too easy to let the days and weeks fly past without getting it done, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and just book the trip!

Writing travel plans in notebook

  • React positively. When someone expresses judgement or jealousy towards your choosing to take time off, have a few prepared responses or rituals to make the interaction a little easier. Take a couple of deep breaths, or count to 5. You might be able to call them out and educate them on how their words have impacted you, or you could simply explain your excitement for your upcoming trip. Remember that getting upset or worked up will only make you feel worse, and that if you’re able to rise above vacation shaming then you might be able to change the way people perceive holidays and time off.


  • Recognise if you’re perpetuating the problem. We all get jealous, heck, I know I can feel a pang of guilt right after the classic “Oh WOW you’re just SOOO lucky!”. In all honesty, if I’ve ever made someone I know feel guilty for their trips, it’s purely envy. That’s because I love travel and I want to do it more! Instead, I’m trying to work on ways to encourage and admire, such as saying “That will be a wonderful experience! I can’t wait to hear about it. I’d love to get some tips!”. Keeping positivity in your attitudes towards others’ holidays puts you at a lower risk for receiving vacation shaming (I hope!).

It’s safe to say that vacation shaming is a rife problem, and one that isn’t easily fixed by unlimited annual leave, or other time off policies. I hope that with a little conscientiousness we can start to be more accepting and understanding of the benefits associated with holidays and travel. If we try to follow a few simple steps to judging others less and confronting judgement we face maybe we’ll get a little closer to avoiding the holiday guilt trip!

Have you ever considered a job position that offers unlimited annual leave? What’s your experience with this policy? Let me know if you have any additional tips for beating vacation shaming, and if this has been helpful for you!

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  • Reply
    Melis Living
    02/06/2019 at 9:23 am

    Really enjoyed this Suzy, it’s so true! My current doctorate is all about whether you can have success and work life balance in conjunction (I am focusing on the accountancy career path but this applies to most jobs!) I think it is probably more likely that it’ll go the way that you said where people don’t feel they can take many holidays at all!

    • Reply
      02/07/2019 at 2:45 pm

      Thank you so much! Oh wow that sounds like a great topic, I’d love to read what your thoughts are! Indeed, I think working styles are rapidly changing, and I hope companies will get on board with that change. Of course, there are so many working styles but on the most part I know the majority of people would always value more flexibility 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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