Most of us look forward to going on holiday (my husband is the exception - but let's not go there).  So a policy that says you can take as much paid time off as you need sounds great.  What's not to like?

The idea appears to have started in Silicon Valley with the big tech companies and is becoming more popular in the UK.  Four years ago Virgin announced that it had introduced the policy in some departments. Staff could take as much time off as they wanted but (and it's a big but) they didn't think staff would do so unless they felt "a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business - or, for that matter, their careers!"  

Not many of us ever feel completely up to date and therein lies the problem.  If you only feel able to take a couple of days off at a time (in order to keep up to date) then you are less likely to take long holidays. Anecdotal evidence suggests that staff who are allowed to take as much time off as possible often take fewer holidays than staff with a fixed allowance.

Plus, if there is no-one who is going to pick up your work when you are off, any break is going to be tainted by the knowledge that you are going to return to a mountain of work.

It is possible to make open holiday policies work - but they need to be well thought through and managed properly. 

In the UK paid holiday is considered to be an important part of an employers obligations to look after the health and safety of their staff. Anything that deters an individual from taking a minimum period of holiday will be unlawful.  UK businesses that operate an open holiday policy should therefore take steps to make sure their staff do take at least 20 days off each year (this is the minimum required under EU law).