In March of 2010, Summersault announced that we had expanded our paid vacation benefits to include unlimited paid vacation as a part of an experiment to improve quality of life for our hard-working staff. The idea was to simultaneously increase our encouragement for our employees to balance their job responsibilities with the need for rest/relaxation and taking care of other life responsibilities, while also decreasing any concerns and bureaucracy involved in taking time off.
We had a fair amount of interest from local and online colleagues about how this system would work, so I thought I would share some reflections and results one year later.
In general, it seems safe to say that the experiment was a success. We surveyed the entire staff and most everyone agreed that having fewer barriers to taking paid time off was a good thing. People cited lower stress levels, improved mental and physical health, and improved attractiveness of a position at Summersault in our hiring efforts as ways the program had a positive impact on the company.
When we discussed the program at the end of the year, the primary concern was that it was almost too flexible. In the previous system, there was a firm sense that “I have X days of paid time off to use in a year, so I should use those.” In the new system, the lack of an artificial ceiling on days used meant there was less incentive to plan out their use, and so some employees found they’d gotten to the end of the year and used fewer paid days off than they might have otherwise.
Moving from a system where each employee had a designated amount of vacation time available based primary on their tenure at the company to a system that applied the benefits evenly for everyone regardless of tenure was at first a little uncomfortable, but everyone quickly got used to it. We also had to do some work early on to clarify the distinction between and different scenarios for paid time off and unpaid time off, and to make sure the process of requesting paid time off still appropriately considered client deadlines, other employees` schedules, etc. – these items were fairly easily ironed out along the way.
From a management perspective, we certainly did spend much more in that year on employee time off than we have in other years past – this was partly due to an increase in our staff size, and partly due to increased use of the benefit itself. While it might be tempting to fret over how much the program is “costing” us, after seeing what’s brought to our overall value we bring to clients and the wider community, it feels like a pretty good value. We’re also glad that it puts us closer to realizing what other countries around the world have identified as a common sense goal: employees who can balance their work with the rest of their lives in a way that allows for being well rested and recharged instead of overworked and burned out.
We tweaked a few things about the program as we move into our second year of experimenting with it:
- We lowered the minimum term of employment before this benefit kicks in
- We’ve asked that each employee take a minimum of 2 weeks of paid time off per year
- We’ve reduced the amount of time in advance needed to make requests for scheduled paid time off
With these changes, we’ll see how year two of this exciting approach to time off benefits goes. If you have any questions or comments on the program, or how you’ve implemented similar programs at your organization, let us know!