Why less is more when it comes to a corporate vacation plan

by Chad Oakley
Chief Executive Officer at Charles Aris Inc.

Remember when you received your consulting offer letter? Remember the vacation component? If you were like me, you were absolutely floored when you saw how much paid time off you were granted. Four weeks? Five weeks? Perhaps even six? Woohoo! And they said life as a consultant was going to be hard! Ha!

Twelve months later …

Hmmm. Maybe this whole vacation thing isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

I’m not sure about you, but when I was a consultant I found it practically impossible to take all the PTO I was granted. The consulting life was just too demanding. The only practical time to schedule a vacation was between projects, and predicting when your current project would end and your next project would begin could only be done with a crystal ball and some black magic (one or two days on the beach felt like an eternity of down time!). Even worse, if you were able to take all of your vacation, it might have been a sign that perhaps you weren’t as “in demand” as you wanted to be (i.e., maybe that permanent vacation was coming your way – yikes!).

Ultimately, I ended up doing what most consultants do: squeezing in a day here or a day there, always thinking wistfully about my B-School buddies who sent me photos of their great multiweek holidays thanks to their less demanding lifestyles (save my I-Banking buddies, who never, ever left the office ).

Before we go any further and get ourselves all riled up to start an anti-establishment picket line, I think it’s important to point out that we shouldn’t blame the firms for this problem. I truly do not believe that this is some kind of cruel bait-and-switch whereby firm leadership knows you’ll never be able to take the vacation time they grant you, so why not grant you a ton?

Is there some misplaced optimism involved? Probably. But that optimism comes from a good place, not a bad one. The inability to take a lot of vacation is just the nature of client services, and all sectors of client services – including executive search – suffer accordingly.

Let’s talk about vacation policies in corporate America. Since I joined Charles Aris Inc. 12 years ago, I’ve personally completed more than 300 searches. If I lined up all of the vacation policies from those searches, I would wager that no less than 90 percent of them included three weeks of vacation (effectively 15 days). The remaining 10 percent would be split, with half receiving more than three weeks and half receiving fewer.

On the surface, this looks like a problem. At a minimum, most consultants would see their vacation time cut by five days, and many would see it cut by 10 or even 15. It feels like a big step backward and is likely a tough pill to swallow for many of you.

But don’t fret just yet. While your vacation days will likely decrease when you move from consulting to corporate America, the very, very good news is that you’ll actually be allowed (and even expected) to take them. Scheduling a whole week of vacation is fairly routine in corporate America – and your schedule is considerably more predictable than in consulting, so you can plan way ahead for when you’re going to take time off and what you’re going to do with it.

Even better, many of our corporate clients have a fairly flexible policy when it comes to taking more vacation than you are officially granted. As many of our clients say, “If you are taking care of the business, the business is taking care of you.” That’s code for “feel free to take additional days of vacation as long as everyone is happy with your performance.” And, as you would expect, most former consultants know how to take care of the business.

The core message is this: When you receive that corporate offer, don’t be alarmed by less vacation time than you have now. You’re much more likely to be able to take longer and better vacations than you can in consulting. All in all, when it comes to corporate vacation policies, less truly is more.