vacation and serenity

Unlimited vacation is not the answer, Pt. 2

In last week’s post, we spoke about two alternatives to unlimited vacation: flexible and remote work arrangements. Today, we are going to cover off three more:

  • Purchased vacations
  • Company vacations
  • Unlimited sabbaticals

Flexible and remote work arrangements exists as stated policy for a number of organizations already, but now we are headed into bleeding edge territory.

Purchased vacations

How much is an extra vacation day worth to you? How about an entire week?

Believe it or not, companies already pay for those extra vacation days. When an employee is burnt out, they may physically be present in the office, but not so much emotionally or mentally.

  • A 2-hour task now takes five
  • Extra coffee breaks abound!
  • A problem that should be solved in one meeting now takes three (because people aren’t focused)

Instead of undercover loss of productivity, why not offer employees the opportunity to buy extra vacation time? We should be honest: at the highest level of large organizations, it often becomes a numbers game. Managers move budgets around all the time – why not give employees the same opportunity, within reason?


Company vacations

Have you ever traveled to Europe during mid-August? I was once in Florence at that time of year and my goal was to indulge in some serious high street shopping.

I was thwarted. Why? How? Many of the shops that I wanted to visit were closed…for summer holidays. Entire shops, shutdown! Signs posted on the door:

“Chiuso per ferie, Dal 03/8 al 15/08”

In finance, there is an unspoken understanding that from mid-August into the US Labor Day weekend (encompassing also the UK Summer Banking holiday), do not attempt to get any major work done or item approved. Why not? Because it will be a skeleton crew in the office and most people will be off on longer holidays.

In consulting, more than a few pull back their consultants from clients and projects for the last 2 weeks of the year and they stop billing. They just stop; everyone gets an extended year-end holiday.

Of course, this is not feasible for all companies, but does it not merit at least a discussion and serious consideration? There is cost involved, yes, but there is also potential gain in:

  • Long-term productivity, driven by
  • Long-term employee happiness, driven by
  • Trust and investment by long-term employees that the company cares?

Do the math. All of the math.

Unlimited sabbaticals

I know it sounds weird for me to say “no!” to unlimited vacations, but yes to unlimited sabbaticals, but hear me out: sabbaticals can be company time whereas vacation is not.

What are sabbaticals used for? So many things… To write books. To do extended research. To climb mountains. To go compete for an Olympic medal. To train and run an ultramarathon. To take a break from the day-to-day so as to gain perspective, broaden knowledge, and achieve something. And then to come back to the place where you started and to spread that knowledge.

A productive, growth-oriented employee will be become bored and restless if they feel stuck. If someone is bored and restless for too long, one of two things happen:

  1. Productivity drops and they can drag down morale, and/or
  2. They quit.

None of those are positive outcomes.

Instead, let them take a break. Let them get real relaxation, refreshment, and perspective. Let them learn something new without the added pressure of maintaining the day-to-day goals and targets. And then bring them back into the fold.

How many times should you allow this of one employee? Well, how valuable is that employee to you? Believe it or not, you need not cap it if you create the right structure for this type of allowance to flourish. This is more than unlimited vacation and more than tuition assistance and more than a simply leave of absence. Create a structured framework for sabbaticals and watch it become an innovation engine for your organization.


In conclusion

Those five approaches: flexible work arrangements, remote work arrangements, voluntary vacation purchases, company-wide vacation, and unlimited sabbaticals, are neither completely new or the only ways to get around the challenge of maximal productivity coupled with maximal personal happiness and life balance. They just require a bit more creativity than the 2-4 weeks PTO, 6 sick days, and 10 paid holidays.

As the world of work changes, as we get more and more technology in the office each week, each day, and we cross-pollinate ideas between industries and countries, creative is exactly what all companies need to be to compete for, retain, and grow the most talented humans they can find.

Just don’t tell your employees to disappear from the office whenever they want for however long they want. Why not? Because they won’t. And that will make your talented humans worse off and you worse off with them.

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