Three Ways the Business World is Rethinking Paid Time Off

May 2, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Imagine a job that paid you to travel to the destination of your choice for a week of work outside the confines of your usual office routine but still on the clock. That’s exactly what US social media research firm Fizziology is doing with its innovative “Find Your Inspiration Trip” program, which encourages employees to “break out of their daily routine” in order to enjoy a “solo exploration trip” paid for by the company yet without taking a day off from work. And, as Fizziology co-founder Jen Handley told Ozy, it’s paying off big-time for both the company and its employees. In fact, the 20-person company has had zero turnover during the past two years -- a major boon in today’s dynamic job market. Said Handley of employee attitudes about the program, “They come back with so much gratitude and goodwill.”

While Fizziology may be on the extreme side, it’s in line with a movement which finds many companies thinking about the two-weeks vacation box. Here’s a closer look at three different types of vacation policies gaining traction in the US workforce, along with what they mean for employees.

 

1. Unlimited Vacation Time

With work-life balance increasingly elusive -- and therefore of paramount importance -- in today’s high-stress, fast-paced business world, unlimited vacation time represents a unique solution. According to one CEO whose company adopted unlimited vacation time, its benefits are manifold -- even when you factor in that most employees don’t end up taking any more days. Why? Because offering unlimited vacation days signify that employers are viewing employees as holistic individuals while simultaneously demonstrating trust -- all things employees prize in their employers.

Still, unlimited vacation time is a surprisingly controversial topic, but not for the reasons you might expect. As evidenced by Kickstarter’s elimination of unlimited vacation days, employees were taking less -- not more - days off because of fears about missing too much time.

In returning to a 25-day-a-year policy, a Kickstarter representative told BuzzFeed News, “It’s always been important to us to ensure that our team is able to enjoy a quality work/life balance. What we found was that by setting specific parameters around the number of days, there was no question about how much time was appropriate to take from work to engage in personal, creative, and family activities.”

And while more companies may be adopting the trend, it’s still extremely rare: Just one to two percent of US companies offer unlimited paid time off, according to a report from the Society for Humane Resource Management. But it’s hardly a coincidence that these same companies consistently land spots atop “Best Places to Work” lists.

 

2. Floating Vacation Days

The standard paid holiday schedule in the US includes a number of traditional, civic, and religious holidays which the majority of the population observes. But what if these holidays don’t apply to you, or what if another does? Enter paid floating holidays, which allow employees to take a day off at their discretion outside of the constraints of the traditional schedule. For example, Jewish employees may use floating vacation days for holidays like Passover and Rosh Hashanah, which may not be covered by their employers’ schedules.

While companies aren’t required to offer floating holidays, many do anyway. Says The Balance, “There are reasons related to diversity, work-life balance, and employee satisfaction for why an employer might want to consider offering a floating holiday or two. It's rare to identify such an inexpensive, easy to implement benefit that employees appreciate a lot.”

San Francisco networking equipment systems manufacturer Cisco grants its employees 16 hours of floating holidays in addition to 30 days of vacation and 20 days of general PTO. As Cisco program manager of Human Resources told Fortune, “We have a trusting, professional culture and our PTO policy contributes to this. Employees are entrusted to work with their managers on scheduling time off. Employees have provided feedback they really like the flexibility of our PTO plan and they can accrue up to 20 days as a new hire.”

 

3. Compressed Work Weeks

Where did the hard-and-fast concept of the five-day-a-week, eight-hour-a-day work week originate anyway? Compressed work weeks (CWW), which Huffington Post describes as “ a useful flexible work arrangement that can help free up valuable time for family and life demands while minimizing workplace disruptions,” do away with conventional structure and instead adopt the attitude that as long as employees log the same hours, they can use them in ways that are more amenable to how they live. For example, an employee may work nine-hour days instead of eight-hour days and, in doing so, earn every other Friday off.

Many employers find CWW to be preferable to similar options like flextime and remote work. Continues Huffington Post, “As opposed to work-at-home or telecommuting options, employers know they are still getting full-time, in-the-office work from employees. They can more easily monitor work performance, and can avoid their overblown and largely unfounded fears that ‘at home work’ somehow means ‘sleeping late’ or ‘slacking off.’ Their concern that ‘flextime employees’ won’t have enough time at the office to collaborate with coworkers also falls away. Finally, CWWs are easier for bosses to remember and build into the work calendar -- managers no longer have to balance multiple employee schedules or ad-hoc arrangements.”

One last thing to keep in mind? While we often think of creative and flexible time off in terms of the benefits it offers to employees and employers alike, it’s also essential to keep in mind the heightened responsibility that goes along with it. As Flex+Strategy Group founder and CEO Cali Williams Yost told Mashable, “Flexible work success requires an extra layer of collaboration, coordination and communication that we need to manage and initiate. But that is a small price to pay in order to have that flexibility to make what matters on and off the job happen on a regular basis.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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