At first blush, unlimited vacation time as an employee sounds ideal. But the policy has been hotly debated in the last few years, entering the spotlight after corporations including Netflix, LinkedIn and Virgin adopted it.

The problems originally anticipated with unlimited vacation have not emerged at these companies. (Will anything get done? Will anyone ever be in the office?) Instead, early research indicates that the policy either has no impact on employee habits or actually causes them to take fewer days off.

That latter counterintuitive outcome is now sparking debate.

Proponents say the freedom engenders “an ownership mentality,” builds morale by demonstrating trust in employees, and improves work-life balance, thereby boosting worker happiness. But proponents tend to be corporate bigwigs—and the reality of the policy in practice can often be quite different than they imagine.

Reports have found that without clear vacation-day guidelines, many workers are stressed and uncomfortable with where to draw the line. Even if corporate policy calls for unlimited time off, some feel that office and/or manager norms and expectations imply using vacation time sparingly. No one wants to be seen as the slacker.

To a large extent, how an unlimited vacation policy plays out in practices comes down to culture, business psychologist Douglas LaBier told The Cut website.

“Management culture has to convey what it means in terms of its values, authentically. If you feel like it’s authentic, that can make you feel a little freer and less guilty about taking the time off,” Mr. LaBier told the website. “But if you sense this is maybe a technique they’re trying to make you work harder, to always call in or be on the computer even if we take the time off, then you’ll think it’s a gimmick.”

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