When I first started working on Buffer and learning on sites like TechCrunch about the kinds of amazing perks and benefits some startups provide, I thought unlimited vacation time sounded like such a great idea.

Giving everyone the opportunity to unplug whenever they needed felt so right that suddenly the “old world,” where you had a specific number of vacation days, didn’t even make sense to me.

So when new teammates would come on board at Buffer and ask how vacation works, we would tell them very gladly, “There’s no policy, take as much as you like!”

It was only after a few years of Buffer’s “no policy” policy that we discovered: People were barely taking any vacation.

How could such an amazing perk have such a counterintuitive consequence? Here’s what we’ve discovered about unlimited vacation and why we now give teammates an extra $1000 bonus to take time off.

After 3 years, a disconnected break

I wish the trigger for this vacation realization would have been that we were looking compassionately at our team members and figuring out how to make them happier.

The truth is, it was a lot more self driven.

After 3 years of going nonstop, Joel and I were tired. I turned to him (or maybe he turned to me) and said, “We need a vacation. This is something we really need to do.”

We went on our first-ever vacation from Buffer all the way to Mexico, and we got really lucky: We had rented an apartment that was supposed to have internet but didn’t, and our cell phones didn’t work there either. 

It felt almost like a miracle of no internet access. I could finally read, sleep in, have breakfast at 11 am. It was an actual vacation.

Joel and Leo in Mexico
Me and Joel in Mexico last year on our first vacation in 3 years

One day in, we were still talking about Buffer, Two days in, it was a bit less.

By the third day, we had almost completely stopped talking about Buffer stuff. We talked about philosophy, read books, went to the beach, went to the gym—all the things you do when you have time on your hands and don’t have to fill it up with anything.

We eventually managed to completely get Buffer out of our minds, and the results of truly disconnecting felt amazing. 

Buffer’s new policy: At least $1,000 to take off

When we returned, Joel and I hoped that our vacation would be a good example for the rest of the team—but we didn’t want to bet on it.

We had learned that with unlimited vacation policies, what’s OK to take is—intentionally or not—mostly dictated by founders. 

Since we weren’t taking any, our team wasn’t taking any either—or they were doing it in a very guilt-driven way, since they could see it wasn’t the norm.

When we learned Evernote had a similar approach to vacation and also added an extra $1,000 bonus to take a week off, that’s what we aimed to do, too.

Here’s what we came up with:

  • We highly encourage each teammate to take at least a weeklong vacation every year.
  • Buffer pays a bonus of at least $1,000 per teammate to help make it happen. 
  • We also added an extra $500 for partners/each additional family member. (So a 4-person family gets $2,500 to go on vacation, while a single person still gets $1,000.)

Buffer vacation policy

At our retreat in New York last fall, we told the team what we wanted to do. 

Immediately, we felt that this had a much bigger impact than we had even thought it would. I remember Adam walking up to me afterwards nearly in tears he was so grateful. 

On the whole, it’s not that big of a financial burden to Buffer at all. But it might make a big difference to the whole team.

The results: Way more vacations!

By just giving that one extra incentive, we thought our vacation challenge would take care of itself.

We wanted to see how it worked, and now we know. This year, 80% of the Buffer teammates (25 of 31) who were around when we started the policy have collected their vacation bonuses thus far, as compared to the 36% (9 out of about 25)  who took a vacation in the year before we added the bonus. (We’ve also grown the team a lot; for those new teammates the $1,000 bonus is available and resets on their first day as a full time team member following boot camp.)

Vacation change over time

It’s been amazing to see that people have gone on some incredible adventures and shared such cool stories.  

ezgif.com-gif-maker (1)

There were cruises, RV trips and adventures from New Zealand to Japan to Hawaii, and at least one staycation, too.

We collected some impressions and photos in our first Buffer Vacation Bonus photo album. Maybe it’ll give you a few ideas for your next vacation!

Colin: "After the Iceland retreat, Caity and I went on a little road trip / activity tour round the south coast of Iceland. Taking in the geysers, waterfalls, glaciers and incredible scenery was truly magical. One of the highlights was definitely snow-mobiling across a glacier in some rather fetching outfits!"
Colin: “After the Iceland retreat, Caity and I went on a little road trip / activity tour round the south coast of Iceland. Taking in the geysers, waterfalls, glaciers and incredible scenery was truly magical. One of the highlights was definitely snow-mobiling across a glacier in some rather fetching outfits!”
Leo: "Leo: Was so excited to get to spend some time with my family this year for vacation in France and also for spending some time in Santa Cruz learning to surf."
Leo: “Was so excited to get to spend some time with my family this year for vacation in France and also for spending some time in Santa Cruz learning to surf.”
Courtney vacation
Courtney: “This year I helped my parents cross an item off their “bucket list” when we took a long-awaited Alaskan cruise. We hiked through incredible forests, hear glaciers calve and spotted whales and sea lions on a wonderful adventure together.”
Carolyn vacation
Carolyn: “I loved taking vacation with a friend this year. We traveled to Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal! Obrigada, Buffer!!”
Adam vacation
Adam took his family on a Disney cruise!
Tom D vacation
Tom D.: “I’m so grateful for the fact that I could go to Japan with Elly in September thanks to Buffer and it was a life changing experience! :) It felt like landing on another planet and was a wonderful opportunity to disconnect and explore this new world. (I’m pretty sure we are getting photo bombed here too!)”
Sunil vacation
Sunil: “I was so grateful I could take Avanti to a place she has always wanted to visit, Santorini, Greece! We both saw the Mediterranean for the first time–the water, weather and views were absolutely perfect! This is us sipping wine, watching the sunset on a cliff, and reflecting on how incredibly lucky we both are. “
Nicole
Nicole: “I am so grateful to have taken a week-long staycation on the homestead (my companions, some of our chickens, our pictured here.) :) This year has been incredibly full and blessed as we get ready to welcome a baby boy into our lives. The time to take a week to myself and just be was a huge learning experience and so rewarding.”
Niel vacation
Niel: Saffron & I took the amazing opportunity before the Buffer Iceland retreat to rent a car and drive the Iceland Ring Road. We decided to camp along the way to best enjoy the beautiful Iceland landscapes. It was 10days of incredible sights & amazing memories. Truly grateful to have been able to go on this journey. Came out refreshed & ready for more amazing Buffer time!”
Leo vacation 2
Leo: “Was so excited to get to spend some time with my family this year for vacation in France and also for spending some time in Santa Cruz learning to surf.”
Daniel vacation
Daniel: “This year it was so incredible having the opportunity to travel to Bali en route to Brisbane, Australia where Dave (a fellow Happiness Hero) and I traveled the east coast of Australia on our way to the Sydney retreat.”
Mary vacation
Mary took a trip to New Zealand!

Tell us about your vacation!

Considering unlimited vacation time at your company or wondering how to navigate this unique benefit? We’ve got even more thoughts on unlimited vacations and a few tips and strategies to share.

I’d love to hear: How would you feel about an unlimited vacation policy? When’s the last time you took some vacation time (and where did you go)? 

Tell us all about it in the comments! 

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Written by Leo Widrich

Co-founder and COO at Buffer. I enjoy writing about Buffer’s lessons learnt, social media tips and updates to Buffer. For some more personal posts, check out leostartsup.

  • Jesse Poteet

    I love this for several reasons! It’s awesome to see how much you guys care about the quality of life for each team member. I can’t even imagine how awesome it would be to have the freedom to get away and recharge (and have the financial incentive to help!). I always feel so inspired and creative after I’m able to disconnect from work for a bit. Love the culture you guys are creating at Buffer!

    • LeoWid

      yes, it took us a while to learn how inspiring and fueling this can be, really excited that we did it! :)

  • slfisher

    I went to Australia and New Zealand for two weeks this year. It was really enlightening.

  • Tracey

    I just came back from a visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – also known as North Korea. (And a day in Beijing on either side.) Talk about unplugging – my contact with the outside world for a solid week was sending three emails saying “got here safely,” and making two phone calls for a combined total of six minutes.

    I feel incredibly lucky to work for a startup (Cucumber – https://cucumber.io/) where I don’t need to ask permission to go away or keep track of my days away; I just mark it in the calendar and make sure all my work is done/handed over and my out of office is on before I step on the plane. We also encourage family travel; one of the directors is currently in Australia with his partner and kids, combining work and a holiday. Extensive travel requires a lot of communication among the team members, but that’s a feature rather than a bug.

    I’m already planning my next adventure. :)

    • LeoWid

      awesome, so cool to hear that you’re encouraged to do that and that sounds like an amazing trip! And cucumber looks cool!

  • Suz Stanton

    I went on vacation two years ago to SC – which was beautiful! Hoping for another vacation next year! Enjoyed your article and believe it is really important to get away, although I don’t do it myself.

  • I’ve been extremely fortunate to take two big “disconnected” vacations in the last few years.

    My wife and I traveled a good portion of New Zealand across three weeks for our honeymoon. While we weren’t in the dark, we hardly had time to be connected because of the mini-adventures we were taking.

    The other was a huge achievement in our love of mountaineering. We made an attempt at summiting Denali in 2013. Over the course of 21 days, we made many new friends and memories. While we weren’t able to summit, it is still a huge accomplishment. It taught me a lot about perseverance, teamwork, and my personal limits.

    These two trips reinforced how crucial it is to disconnect regularly. Engage the senses, expand your worldview, and fuel your drive.

    • LeoWid

      wow, such a cool picture, thanks for sharing!

    • That looks incredible! New Zealand is my dream vacation. Did you get to go Zorbing?

  • Parker Agee

    As your company continues to grow, do you see this as a scalable perk?

    • LeoWid

      Great question, I think so yes, when you look at the numbers, it’s not really a huge expense. Even at say a 500 person company, it’s only $500k/year + a bit more for people with multiple dependents. At that size, that’ll still be a very small expense. Of course, we might iterate on it as we grow, however purely from a $ it’s not much

  • Wasswa Samuel

    This is truly amazing. Talk about redefining the job experience. Its incredible how Buffer cares about employees. Keep it up. You are simply awesome.

  • This is fantastic! I’m a huge proponent of taking time off to recharge and refresh. :) Most recently, my boyfriend and I went to Mexico City for the first time. We spent our time eating our way around town and checking out a handful of the 90+ museums!

  • AP

    I’ve been always unsure how to think about it from employee perspective. We have 21 vacation days that don’t add after you have 18 days saved, so you have to use it if you want days to be added, and people do use it (Fridays, vacations, etc.).
    At the same time, I have a few friends who work in companies with unlimited days, however, they never take them. That may be a personal reason, guilt (as you mentioned) or because their managers will not like them to take 4 weeks off a year.
    Now, if you didn’t use your unlimited policy and you want to leave the company, I assume, you don’t get anything? While in companies with fixed policies if you have 18 days save and you leave, you’ll get almost a month of payment.

    So I’ve always felt that in the most cases it benefits companies more than employees and this is a way better deal for the company.

    The idea to encourage employees to take vacation is great and hopefully will help people to take this time off to relax. :)

  • The idea of getting paid to go on vacation seem unreal to me as I’ve never had a job that has ever done that. I’m naturally wired to work, work, work, and it would be something new for me (in a good way).

    Last time I went on vacation was over a year ago. This year, instead of going on vacation I decided to take time off due to my new baby.

  • My last vacation was to Lone Pine, California, to attend its film festival. My husband and I booked a room at a 1920s hotel. The wifi signal was weak in our lodging, and phone reception was poor in the area, but that turned out great. Like you and Joel experienced on your trip, our being somewhat disconnected helped us focus more on our trip, the town, the film fest events, fellow attendees, and each other. It is good to disconnect sometimes. That allowed us to be in the present, to escape every day demands, and to have fun.

    • LeoWid

      love that story Beth, thanks for sharing!

  • Sridhar Rajendran

    In my company there is no specific vacation time. We get the usual leaves. But being an American company there are at least two shutdowns. I have always found this to be a nice way to disconnect from work. Even though such ‘shutdowns’ are deducted from our leave balance, it sort of forces everyone to take a break from work.
    Of course having a bonus to take a vacation is super awesome :)

  • Teresa wolf

    This is truly amazing! Your company just keeps hitting the “wow” factor with me! While we all need a job/career to help support things we need and want, it is so important to step away from emails and meetings. I can only dream of a vacation policy like yours at the moment. Maybe I’ll bet lucky enough to find myself working for a company that offers such a great perk down the road.

  • Bryan Milne

    Such a different (AWESOME) approach to that which so many of us have to live with. Where I currently work we get 20 days leave but 15 expire after 6 months and 5 expire after only 3 months and you need to use the 15 before you can touch the 5 Go-Figure! #MoveToBuffer :). My favorite place so far for a disconnect is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park in Northern South Africa, a truly wild and remarkable place. These are two photos from my last trip:

    • LeoWid

      this picture is gorgeous, thanks for chiming in Bryan!

      • Bryan Milne

        Thanks, only a pleasure! I do indeed live in a beautiful country.

  • Taylor McLeod

    Thanks for sharing Leo. Reading the blog is like a continually unfolding story.

    Have you considered mandatory minimum vacation times? I forget where (I think in a Philosophy of Economics class), but I learned about companies with unlimited vacation policies combined with mandatory minimums. It’s to prevent work-life balance from becoming one more thing for colleagues to compete in. With no minimums, there’s competitive race to the bottom with everyone choosing less than the optimum time off for fear of looking lazy at work.

    After living and working in England where getting a month paid vacation every year is standard, it’s hard to imagine going back. :P

    T

  • Karinna Briseno

    Thanks for posting this, Leo! I really admire Buffer’s vacation policy; it’s so important to focus on recharging our batteries every once in awhile to make sure we’re doing our best work. I recently took a week and a half long vacation over the summer to Kauai to visit my family. Despite a few close calls with a hurricane and several car accidents (totally not my fault I promise! haha) It was probably one of the best trips I’ve taken in awhile. There’s nothing like spending time with your family in a beautiful place. I got to hangout by the beach, surf, swim with sea turtles, cookout at a luau, ate my weight in mangoes, and we even went on this boat ride touring the Napali Coast. If you’re ever in Hawaii, definitely check it out!!

  • Of course a break is not the same as a vacation, but…

    There’s this thing in Dutch law (or at least in people’s contracts) that you are obliged to take a 2 week break at least once every year.

    I’ve been witness to people being politely told, somewhere near the start of December, to go home and not return before the new year. :-)

  • Seriously, you guys never fail to amaze me. The first time I heard about a company having an unlimited vacation policy, I did a whole lot of reading and I completely agree that anything else seems so “old world” now. A company can’t do its best work if the individual employees aren’t getting the rest and breaks they need.
    My last vacation was in October to Rome, GA for a four-day conference followed by a few extra days of a staycation at home. And I’ve got another full week coming up between Christmas and New Year’s!

  • Becca Griffith

    I’m INTRIGUED by this concept. I’ve started “watching” you guys at Buffer over the last month to see and learn the structures that have been set in place. I was just having a discussion with a friend today about careers that are telecommuting vs. onsite. There are so many places that have terrible communication with the telecommuting employees (due to the assumption of accountability, motivation, & desire). What I’m beginning to observe (or more, assume) with the Buffer crew & communications is that it’s an identity rather than a “job.” And as described in this wonderfully transparent article, is that the entire crew needed to know that the leadership was taking a much-needed rejuvacation in order to communicate that it’s more than okay…and even more so with the $ incentive to do it is saying “we’re not kidding!”

  • Connor

    I love reading about companies who encourage their employees to take time off! My last employer had very limited vacation time off opportunities, even with a week of allotted time and it seemed like any time off was scrutinized which makes it tough on an employee, and just simply not taking vacation. I wish more companies would join the ranks of Buffer and offer such an amazing employee experience! My Girlfriend and I love to travel, we take in the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee each spring which is prefect to disconnect with the world. I only with traveling was cheaper, I’d do it more!

  • groundedGeek

    I don’t fully understand the unlimited vacation premise… could you literally take like 6 months off with no consequences?

  • Kate Gowers

    I live and work in the UK and have done so for the last 28 years (I’m American by birth). We typically get between 20 – 25 days’ annual leave (plus bank holidays) and I’d wager much (if not all) of that is typically taken, at least up to middle manager level (never having been a board manager, I can’t really speak for those in such rarefied positions).

    It seems to be a very American thing that the taking of holiday is seen as evidence of laziness or lack of commitment. Truly one of the reasons I am glad I have spent my entire adult life in the UK. The thought of only taking 1 week off is anathema. I work hard – my time off is precious.

  • Ben Keene

    Great mindset as always guys – love what Buffer is building – but 1 week?! That’s pretty lean. Should be a minimum of 1 month I think. Is that what you’re aiming for?

  • I owned my own business for 7 years and took vacations but didn’t take vacations. I was almost always on my laptop or phone somehow. I couldn’t get away from the business (nor did I really want to?). I think when you love your business so much and you love your job so much, you are so excited to do it all the time. But we all really need a break. What a great way to incentivize team members and motivate them to be O.K. on vacation and not worry.

  • Brian Carbonette

    I can’t wait to drive cross country again! With an unlimited vaca policy I could have the time to drive round trip instead of flying back!

  • Kieran Shaw

    I find it really interesting that so few people took holiday before you started offering this bonus. In the UK pretty much everyone takes holiday, what do you think was stopping people before? Is it because of your remote working, generous lifestyle work environment, as people were at home they didn’t feel as much of a need for holidays? Or is it part of startup culture to not take breaks?

  • Lezka Rodríguez

    Wow this is incredible and very much culture depending. I work in Spain and we get up to 26 working days off at our company and be sure that most people use them all and I would use even more if I have them. That doesn’t mean that we don’t work efficiently or that we don’t like working here but we really value our time off and we all take it. I’ve seen companies offering this limitless vacation plan in the US but I’m not sure how this would work in Spain for example. At the same time, I value my time off so much that if you give me extra vacation and even money to spend on them I would be the happiest man on earth and would never leave that company!

  • Mastacheata

    Vacation isn’t paid leave in the US?
    In Germany every full-time employee gets a minimum of 30 days paid leave per year (part-time employees get a share based on a default 40 hour work week). Also sick leave and public holidays are paid just like “normal” work days.

  • CynAp

    The more I learn about Buffer, the more I want to work for you. Getting more experience on your program. Love your culture, love social media and the path you are taking.