Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More examples of flexible vacation policies.

Post 326 - Estalea, the Santa Barbara company I mentioned yesterday, has no formally scheduled days off. It believes that its flexible 40-day vacation policy is necessary to balance out the high expectations and efforts put in by its employees. Since the company is very project based, it demands frequent bursts of high output and believes that people need time to recover in between assignments (just like being in school, work hard for a quarter, then take a break, then work hard for a quarter, take a break....etc). Estalea has also found that this vacation policy helps attract and retain top talent.

Depending on your perspective, Steve Swasey is either an oppressed worker or the luckiest guy in the world. As a salaried employee at Netflix, Swasey has no set number of vacation days. He can spend as much time out of his California office as he wants, provided that he gets all his work done. And there's the hitch: Like many of today's competitive professionals, Swasey always has more work to do that he can get to. "We're always on, 24/7," says Swasey, who admits to checking his BlackBerry throughout a trip to Chile with his family. Still, he insists that he and his colleagues are "not being workaholics. It's being engaged with your job because you love what you do." Thanks to Netflix's unlimited vacation policy, Swasey leaves the office a lot. But the office usually goes with him.

We’ve nearly obliterated the line between work and personal life in America. Many of us tend to “live to work” instead of the other way around. We're defined by what we do and achieve, rather than by what we experience and share. But the cultural attitude is entirely different elsewhere. In Europe and Australia for example, you’re not expected to be reachable during nonworking hours or during vacation. So, people there don’t have the same “guilt” pangs we might experience when we aren’t working.

Because of technology's reach, some activists worry that employees without a specified vacation allotment will feel pressure to work constantly, damaging their relationships and their health. Bonnie Michaels, a board member at Take Back Your Time, a nonprofit organization focused on work/life balance, has no problem with informal vacation policies, so long as managers create a culture where employees really can take breaks. "People are always afraid of taking time off if everybody else isn't doing it," says Michaels. A recession can compound that problem. When people feel insecure about their jobs and their wallets, "they probably won't take the time," she says.

Michaels's organization wants the government to require a minimum number of paid vacation days for everyone. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the United States is the only advanced economy without such a mandate. France leads the pack with 30 required vacation days; Japan sets the lowest bar, with 10. About a quarter of private-sector American workers have no paid vacations at all, and the lower your salary, the more likely it is you'll fall into that unlucky group.

38% of workers say that the summer benefit they would most like to have is a flexible schedule, making it the most coveted benefit, according to a survey by the staffing firm OfficeTeam. Best Buy has introduced a program called Results Oriented Work Environment which gives its 4,000 corporate employees the freedom to do their jobs without regard to the hours they put in daily – thus opening up the ability to take personal time off without a lot of prior approvals and scheduling rules. Motley Fool, the online investment adviser, lets employees take as many paid vacation or sick days as they need; the company's director of HR, Lee Burbage, says that most of its 180 workers take three to four weeks a year.

At IBM, each of its 355,000 workers is entitled to three or more weeks of vacation yearly. The company doesn’t keep track of who takes how much time or when, doesn’t give choice vacation times by seniority and doesn’t let people carry days off from year to year. IBM's vacations-without-boundaries system started in the early 1990s, when managers in the HR, finance and technology departments complained that tracking days off was an administrative burden. So the company stopped counting days in a few departments, then gradually expanded the new policy. Since 2003, it‘s covered everyone in the company, from the CEO to workers at IBM's chip and server factories in East Fishkill and Poughkeepsie, New York.

1 comment:

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