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Balancing Autonomy: Unlimited Paid Leave in Interdependent Teams

Datum:13 juni 2023
Auteur:Erika Varik
Balancing Autonomy: Unlimited Paid Leave in Interdependent Teams
Balancing Autonomy: Unlimited Paid Leave in Interdependent Teams

Unlimited paid leave (UPL) policies have gained popularity as a way to complement flexible work arrangements. The policies are implemented in several knowledge-driven companies such as LinkedIn and Zoom in the United States. Many companies in Germany and the Netherlands are also considering UPL, which has been a hot topic among HR experts. In practice, some companies have returned to fixed leave policies because increased autonomy under UPL led to employees taking less time off [e.g., 1]. Employers adopting UPL aim to improve employees' mental and physical health, not the reverse. Consequently, it is essential to reflect on the social factors involved in the success of the UPL policies.

The UPL policies, implemented by fast-paced companies, are designed to make working for them more attractive to current and prospective employees. Indeed, recent research suggests a positive link between UPL (alternatively called flexible leave) and increased attachment of employees to their company [2]. It means that employees feel more content and identify more with their employer. However, many of us work in teams and are dependent on each other’s work to complete tasks or a project. Therefore, it is crucial to reflect on how being in an interdependent team affects the availability and use of UPL. In the following, I outline the frailty of interdependent teams in using UPL according to their needs and why supervisors’ own UPL use and health-promoting work behavior can steer the policy’s use.

UPL supposedly instigates more employee autonomy over when and how much leave to take. However, this individual freedom must be balanced with achieving team-work objectives. When team members rely on each other’s work, taking time off can disrupt the smooth functioning of their team [3]. In a situation with significant interdependency in a team, team members' use of UPL may be limited. It is argued that high interdependency in the workplace impacts individual autonomy [4]. As such, it is reasonable to believe that team interdependence and social dynamics within the team play a crucial role in an employee's perception of their ability to use the UPL to their benefit without harming their team’s performance and well-being [3].

This is also why the team supervisors’ role in promoting the personalized use of UPL is crucial. A supervisor’s role modeling behavior can help normalize different leave-taking behaviors [5]. A supervisor can also encourage team members to openly discuss leave-taking wishes and needs and arrive at fair agreements on the team level, ensuring team performance. Furthermore, supervisors’ self-care promotion is vital to improving employees’ behavior in finding a healthy work-life balance [5]. Measures such as communicating about UPL availability in a team during a year, setting health-promoting rules for its utilization, and guaranteeing a minimum leave for everyone could be used in promoting a fair and healthy use of UPL.

Summing up, while UPL promises flexibility in leave-taking behavior, its success hinges on the social structures within the workplace. Interdependence may impede using UPL. Interdependent teams and their supervisors need to make an effort to increase employees’ perception of their leave-taking capacity. Thus, UPL is not only about individual flexibility. It’s about understanding and implementing mechanisms to make UPL work for everyone in an interdependent team.

About the author

Erika Varik is a research assistant working on the ‘Unlimited Paid Leave’ topic at the Department of Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior at the Faculty of Economics and Business. She assists in a research team with principal investigator Prof. Dr. Jessica de Bloom, a leading expert studying unlimited paid leave and employee well-being.


[1] Gateley, B. (n.d.), “We tried unlimited holiday for three years. Here’s everything that went wrong.”, Charlie HR, available at:

[2] White, L., Lockett, A. and Currie, G. (2020), “How does the availability and use of flexible leave influence the employer-employee relationship?”, Human Resource Management, Vol. 59 No. 5, pp. 445–461, doi: 10.1002/hrm.22004.

[3] De Bloom, J., Syrek, C.J., Kühnel, J. and Vahle-Hinz, T. (2022), “Unlimited paid time off policies: Unlocking the best and unleashing the beast”, Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 13, pp. 1–14, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.812187.

[4] Väänänen, A. and Toivanen, M. (2018), “The challenge of tied autonomy for traditional work stress models”, Work & Stress, Vol. 32, pp. 1–5, doi: 10.1080/02678373.2017.1415999.

[5] Kaluza, A., Weber, F., Dick, R. van and Juncker, N.M. (2020), “When and how health-oriented leadership relates to employee well-being - The role of expectations, self-care, and LMX”, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 51 No. 4, pp. 404–424, doi: 10.1111/jasp.12744.