Goldman Sachs is offering unlimited holiday to its senior employees. Is this perk as progressive as it sounds?

On 17 May, the BBC reported that investment bank Goldman Sachs will allow its senior employees to take as much holiday as they want, while junior bankers will only be entitled to a fixed amount.

Unlimited holiday is a benefit that we offer to all employees at 3R Strategy and when it comes up in conversation with clients, reactions are mixed. It’s not for everyone and most importantly, it has to be introduced for the right reasons.

Unlimited holiday is a cultural change

Often, what leaders worry about is how it will work. Unlimited holiday doesn’t mean people can simply disappear for three months. In fact, research suggests people actually take less time off.

The concept of unlimited holiday is much more than just a policy change – it’s a cultural shift.

Some organisations take a prescriptive approach to holiday, tracking time off down to the hour, keeping tabs on every dentist appointment. By contrast, a relaxed approach to holiday and working patterns means employees are trusted to manage their own schedules.

That’s not to say there is no structure involved. But when you have a culture built on collaboration and trust, employees naturally show consideration for others, using common sense when it comes to the frequency and duration of time off.

Goldman Sachs is renowned for its overwork culture where few people take their full holiday allowance as it is. Its decision to offer unlimited holiday is a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic – a superficial change that distracts from a much bigger issue. And let’s not forget that it doesn’t apply to everyone.

Lack of trust and consistency

When an organisation offers unlimited holiday to its senior people, what it’s really saying is “we do not trust our junior people to take a sensible amount of holiday”. This is no different to having a policy where only senior people can work from home or receive bonuses. It’s saying “we think they are responsible enough – but the rest? They have to prove themselves”.

This hierarchical mindset creates a culture of distrust. It’s treating junior employees like children. A lack of consistency in how employees are treated and what benefits they are entitled to has potential to create division and resentment.

Dissatisfaction in the workplace is rarely about just one thing, like whether or not you offer free meals or a gym membership. The issue is usually much broader: poor work-life balance, lack of appreciation – or in this case, a culture based on one rule for some and another for everyone else.

We have to ensure that when we choose to introduce a benefit like unlimited holiday, it’s because:

  • We value our employees’ health, happiness and wellbeing
  • We trust our employees to take time off when they need it

And not because:

  • It makes us look good
  • Everyone else is doing it
  • We don’t want to pay people for accrued holiday

In other words, it needs to be a genuine move based on people – not PR. We hope this is a step in the right direction for Goldman Sachs, and not just a way to distract from its 100+ hour workweeks.

Written by Jenna Thompson 


3R Strategy is an independent reward consultancy helping organisations to build a culture of trust through pay transparency. Book a free discovery call with us today.