The Pros & Cons of Unlimited Holidays


The benefits of offering employees more than their minimum statutory entitlements are well understood. Enhanced annual leave, for example, is a common way for employers to attract talent, and help their workforce achieve a healthy work-life balance by increasing levels of morale and motivation whilst decreasing levels of work-related stress. Offering additional paid holiday can also significantly reduce sickness leave and the loss of valuable members of staff.

In the current war for talent, employers are going further than simply offering additional days off; more and more employers are now offering unlimited holidays, not least to improve their appeal among job candidates.

But what are the practical implications of implementing an unlimited annual leave policy? In this guide we consider the pros and cons of offering staff unlimited holidays, both from an employment law and HR perspective, including the various practicalities and key considerations to be taken into account.


What is meant by unlimited holidays at work?

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers in the UK are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year. For a full-time employee working fixed hours 5 days a week, this equates to 28 days, although bank holidays can be included in this entitlement. This is often referred to as the traditional “20 days plus bank holidays” approach.

By law, employers cannot offer their employees less than the statutory minimum, but an employer can opt to offer more. This is known as enhanced holiday entitlement. Equally, it is open to the employer to put in place an unlimited holiday policy, one which offers every employee unlimited time off work, regardless of role, with no questions asked from day one of employment. Unlimited holiday means that staff can book as many or as few fully-paid holiday days as they want within the leave year, without the employer keeping count.


The pros and cons of unlimited annual leave

For any UK-based business thinking about replacing the traditional “20 days plus bank holidays” approach with a far more flexible unlimited holiday policy, there are a number of unlimited holidays pros and cons that must be taken into account by employers.


The pros of unlimited holidays

Empowerment and employee engagement

Offering unlimited holidays is a policy where employees are given no set number of holiday days per year, meaning an employee can, at least in theory, take as much or as little time off as they like. As such, an unlimited holiday policy can be hugely empowering. By allowing employees to take responsibility for what time they need off work, this level of trust invites them to take ownership of the future of the business. It sends a message to staff that the company is not just their employer, but something that they are responsible for taking care of which, in turn, can create enhanced levels of employee engagement and help to boost productivity.

A beneficial work-life balance

By providing staff with unlimited time off work, this provides employees with the freedom and flexibility to do what they need to do in order to meet the demands of both their personal and professional lives. In this way, an unlimited holiday policy will encourage employees to do their best work, whilst eliminating the stress of having to fit in family or personal commitments around this.

Recruitment and retention

Having an unlimited holiday policy can act as an incentive to attract more talent to the business. Equally, it can help to retain existing employees who will not only feel valued and respected, but can enjoy the benefits of longer holidays.


The cons of unlimited holidays

Insufficient rest breaks

For some, the limitless choice afforded by endless time off work may be more overwhelming than empowering, with the unexpected result that employees may take fewer holidays not more. This is because the lack of a set number of paid holiday days can discourage staff to take time off. Ultimately, unlimited can mean that there is all this possibility, but with so much choice a person may actually never choose. In contrast, where an employee’s annual leave entitlement is limited to a specific number of paid holiday days per year, this numerical allowance can subconsciously motivate the employee to use these, where these days are theirs to take within a specified timeframe.


Inequality of rest

If an employee is a naturally hard worker, who is passionately engaged in their work and professionally ambitious, they may easily fall into the trap of taking less not more holidays. However, at the other end of the spectrum, there will also be those who take far more paid days’ leave than anyone else, creating a sizeable gap between the least and most holidays taken amongst members of staff. The net effect is that those employees who work the hardest, and take the fewest holidays, will often be burdened with the additional workload of those reaping the rewards of an unlimited holiday policy. Holidays are not singularly about an individual taking time off, where being absent on leave can affect everyone else, leaving those in the office to pick up the extra slack.


Lack of clarity

By refusing to put a numerical limit on annual leave entitlement, there is no guide for staff as to what is or is not acceptable, placing significant emphasis on each individual to make the right “call”. In turn, this is likely to create unnecessary anxiety for employees when booking time off work, potentially fretting at whether they are doing the right thing and if they are going to be thought badly of by management or colleagues. Equally, it could ruin their relaxation time by feeling worried about what other people across the company will think of their “unlimited usage”. As such, having a clear limit on holiday allowance does not just define how many days a person has to take that year, it will also help to define what is acceptable conduct and the workplace norm, enabling an employee to confidently take their holiday entitlement and to do so guilt-free.


“Unlimited” is a misnomer

The reality of running a business means that “unlimited holiday” cannot ever really mean wholly unlimited, where annual leave may not be viable all of the time, such as where the business is facing high customer demand or requests for overlapping time off. For operational purposes, even under an unlimited holiday policy, the employee will still be required to request time off and the employer will be required to approve these requests based on business needs. Still, the expression “unlimited” can create unrealistic expectations and result in disappointment where a request is refused. This can also put line managers, or anyone else responsible for authorising holiday requests, in an extremely difficult and uncomfortable position, especially as the expression “unlimited” suggests that they will have no justifiable grounds for refusal.


Practicalities of implementing unlimited holidays

There are various stresses and strains that can come with an unlimited holiday system, not only from a practical point of view, but also from an employment law and HR perspective.

For line managers and HR personnel dealing with holiday requests, the decision-making process can be unnecessarily tricky and awkward, not least where they are forced to refuse requests because of business needs, but also where the employee has not fully understood how the policy of “unlimited holidays” works in practice. This may mean that an employee misses out on a last minute holiday or a much-needed break, where the whole premise of offering an employee enhanced holiday entitlement to achieve a better work-life balance will be undermined by the reality that “unlimited” does not mean “unlimited at any time”.

Refusals can also create conflict, both between the person on the receiving end of a refusal decision and the person tasked with making this decision, but especially between the disappointed employee and those members of staff who have made advance requests at the beginning of the year and have had their leave requests approved. The end result is that working relations all round can be damaged, entirely eradicating any good intentions.

Equally, if an employee is committed to the success of the business, as well as their own career progression, they may get into an unhealthy habit of taking less holidays and not more. Without a numerical allowance, there will be no number hanging over that person’s head, nor a ticking clock as to when this number is about to expire. For these individuals, there will be a very real risk of employee burnout resulting from too few rest breaks. In turn, this will potentially put the employer in breach of its’ statutory duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of its’ employees, including their mental wellbeing.

Additionally, an employee who does not take enough rest breaks can start to underperform. One of the most common signs of employee burnout can include a drop in a persons’ performance or productivity caused through fatigue and exhaustion, as well as an inability to carry out normal work-related tasks or even follow simple instructions. A lack of focus or concentration can also result in an increased incidence of mistakes or accidents at work, potentially putting the physical health and safety of the worker at risk, not to mention other members of staff and the public. As such, overworked employees not being at the top of their game is often the least of an employer’s concerns when it comes to employee burnout.

An employer must take steps to reduce or remove any causes of work-related stress, including encouraging staff to take at least the statutory minimum leave entitlement so that they do not burn out. This is because the regulations on working time are there to safeguard employee health and safety. By having in place an unlimited holiday policy, the employer potentially loses any sense of control over this important aspect of annual leave.


Alternatives to unlimited holidays

For those UK employers who have already trialled the “unlimited holidays” concept in practice, the feedback so far is that this type of policy is not always fit for purpose: mainly because some employees were not taking enough time off, whereas others were taking too much. For a holiday policy to be a success, the employer will need to equalise this disparity.

The question remains as to whether or not there is a suitable and attractive alternative to unlimited holidays, and what a generous holiday policy should look like: the simple answer being a policy that provides for additional days off, over and above the statutory minimum, but one that is not unlimited. By providing an enhanced but numerical limit, this will act as a useful guide for staff as to what is acceptable, helping to dispel any anxiety and to remove any responsibility to make the right call when it comes to booking annual leave. In this way, employees should feel encouraged to take the time off that they need to do their best work.

However, ensuring that employees get the rest and recuperation that they need does not just mean persuading them to take a certain number of days off per year, it also means spreading that holiday from the start of the year to the end. As such, the policy should also provide guidelines that staff take a minimum number of days off in each quarter, helping to ensure that employees are not burning out from long stretches without a break.

As such, a more appealing holiday policy than an employee might find elsewhere could include:

  • 25 days of bookable holiday per year, plus bank holidays
  • closure over Christmas, in addition to the 25 bookable days
  • a company-wide compulsory annual minimum of 22 days
  • guidelines to take at least 5 days off each quarter
  • a rule that holiday cannot be rolled over.

The compulsory annual minimum is designed to make employees more mindful about taking time off, whilst the ban on carrying leave over should provide greater incentive for employees to take the rest that they need during the course of the annual leave year.


Need assistance?

There are many factors to consider before adopting an unlimited holiday policy. DavidsonMorris’ HR specialists provide expert advice to employers on all aspects of employment entitlements and benefits, including annual leave offerings. For specialist guidance, contact us.


Unlimited holidays FAQs

What does it mean when a company offers unlimited holidays?

An unlimited holiday policy is one which offers employees unlimited time off work, regardless of role, with no questions asked from day one of employment, where staff can book as many or as few fully-paid holiday days as they want.

Do you get paid for unlimited holiday?

By law, employee’s are only entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per annum, where it is up to the employer whether they offer enhanced annual leave entitlement and on what terms they decide to do this, including paid unlimited holidays.

What is a good holiday entitlement?

A good holiday entitlement is generally considered to be anything more than the statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks’ per year, or 28 days for an employee on fixed hours working 5 days a week, including bank holidays and public holidays.

What is a generous holiday allowance UK?

A generous holiday allowance in the UK would be regarded as in the region of say 25 days per year, plus bank holidays and public holidays. The statutory minimum annual leave entitlement is 28 days, but including bank/public holidays.

Last updated: 28 January 2023


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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