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Are unlimited holidays the key to work-life balance?

WATCH ABOVE: Why more employers are moving to an unlimited vacation plan. 

TORONTO — Chances are most employees are counting the days until their summer holiday, or mourning their valuable vacation days already spent. But what if you had the option to take more days off, whenever you wanted?

They are still few and far between, but some companies offer just that.

“I was really able to just relax, I didn’t have to worry about counting the number of days or anything like that,” said Alia Pirani, who works in the customer success department at Influitive, a Toronto-based advocate marketing company.

Pirani just got back to work after four days off. Before taking the break she let clients know she would be away and made sure her colleagues were aware and able to pitch in. There was no approval process, and no timeline for her return.

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READ MORE: How to find a better work-life balance

She said it was all about planning when to take a vacation not, “am I allowed to, am I not.” She said not having to watch the calendar made all the difference.

“I think it’s more around the mind-set of thinking, ‘oh I have this many days of vacation’,” said Pirani. “If you need to take a day, take a day.”

She said the values of the company — trust, transparency, empowerment — are truly put to practice in the work space, not just a mantra posted on the wall.

Not to mention free snacks while at work, catered lunches, free house cleaning and an office ping pong table to help de-stress.

“They really want you to not have to worry about all the extra stuff. They bring in lunch three times a week, so you don’t even have to worry about bringing a lunch.”

Happy employees equal less turnover

“We have a great retention rate,” said Fraser Stark, vice president of talent at Influitive. “All of these programs and investing in peoples’ success and engagement have led to a really high employee-retention rate.”

He describes his role as recruiter of new talent, and ensuring everyone is “having a great experience and successful in their role.” The Canadian company has about 100 employees, with three additional offices in the U.S.

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Instead of measuring the hours per day or week an employee is at their desk, work is measured by productivity and tasks completed.

“We focus on empowerment and autonomy. We really try to let people make decisions for themselves.”

The free meals, Stark said, are to encourage people to sit and eat together, forming relationships away from the desk. The free house cleaning ensures their employees can spend their down time freely.

READ MORE: Stress levels linked to heart attack recovery outcomes in women

“It allows people to spend the time that they’re not in the office with their friends and family, engaging in the activities that they like, and just enjoying themselves,” said Stark.

“It’s about that balance, about focusing our employees on doing meaningful work.”

Big players started the trend

Richard Branson made headlines when he announced last year that Virgin staff would be allowed to take as much vacation time as they’d like.

“Simply stated, the policy-that-isn’t permits all salaried staff to take off whenever they want for as long as they want,” said Branson in a statement.

Employees wouldn’t need to get prior approval for time off, and neither the staff member nor their supervisors would be expected to track the time away.

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“It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel 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!”

Branson said he was inspired by Netflix, which has a similarly loose policy when it come to vacation time.

“At Netflix we value high performance, freedom and responsibility. We don’t focus on rules, processes or procedures. We are candid and transparent and seek excellence in everything that we do.”

READ MORE: Silicon Valley’s interns enjoy perk-filled summer

Pictures on Netflix’s corporate website, under the banner “life at Netflix,” show people lounging on bean bag chairs on a sunny lawn, attending themed screenings, and generally appearing to enjoy lots of food and parties.

While Netflix doesn’t exactly have an unlimited vacation policy, it isn’t a structured, regimented system.

“Salaried employees were told to take whatever time they felt was appropriate. Bosses and employees were asked to work it out with one another,” former Netflix chief talent officer Patty McCord wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

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Stark said so far no one has taken advantage of the policy at Influitive.

“We have very high standards for output and performance, and getting results. But then we empower and enable employees to make decisions on how they do that for themselves. We don’t dictate it,” said Stark.

“To constrain the number of days someone can not be in the office felt inconsistent with that approach of focusing on the outcome and the work and doing great things.”

With files from Global News’ Melanie Zettler

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