An article about vacation policy at IBM reminded me of a conversation I recently had with my mother. She asked me how much vacation first year associates at big law firms got, and I couldn't give her a clear answer because the amount of vacation isn't something that comes up much in discussing the benefits of working at a 200+ attorney outfit. The best way I could sum it up was, "They don't give you vacation, you have to take vacation -- whenever you don't have too much work to take it. But if you find you have enough time for more than a couple weeks vacation each year, you're probably not getting enough work and are in trouble." Unlike most companies, after all, law firms do have to track one form of employees' time at work, because they need to know for how many hours the firm can bill.
[IBM] does not keep track of who takes how much time or when, does not dole out choice vacation times by seniority and does not let people carry days off from year to year.
Instead, for the past few years, employees at all levels have made informal arrangements with their direct supervisors, guided mainly by their ability to get their work done on time. Many people post their vacation plans on electronic calendars that colleagues can view online, and they leave word about how they can be reached in a pinch. ...
But the flip side of flexibility, at least at I.B.M., is peer pressure. Mr. Hanny and other I.B.M. employees, including his assistant, Shari Chiara, say that they frequently check their e-mail and voice mail messages while on vacation. Bosses sometimes ask subordinates to cancel days off to meet deadlines.
Some workplace experts say such continued blurring of the boundaries between work and play can overtax employees and lead to health problems, particularly at companies where there is an expectation that everyone is always on call. ...
Frances Schneider, who retired from an I.B.M. sales division last year, after 34 years, said one thing never changed; there was not one year in which she took all her allotted time off.
"It wasn't seven days a week, but people ended up putting in longer hours because of all the flexibility, without really thinking about it," Ms. Schneider said. "Although you had this wonderful freedom to take days when you want, you really couldn't. I.B.M. tends to be a group of workaholics."