by Ben Kirshner
The U.S. lags woefully behind when it comes to vacation policies.
In fact, of 21 comparatively wealthy countries, the U.S. is the only one that doesn’t require employers to give workers paid vacation, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
But things are changing. Flexible vacation policies are becoming more popular — the New York City Comptroller even weighed in on the issue. People are slowly realizing that working more hours doesn’t actually increase productivity or efficiency.
If you’re hesitant to implement an unlimited vacation policy at your company, you’re not alone. It’s a new concept that has employers skeptical, but vetting its potential pitfalls and understanding best practices for policy-making can help you create a vacation policy that keeps your business running smoothly.
Concerns That Hold Managers Back
Managers often fear employees will exploit the “unlimited” aspect of this policy and productivity will suffer. While this isn’t always the case, considering these drawbacks will help you implement a plan with confidence.
- Legal nightmares: If you have an unlimited vacation policy, you still need to meet requirements for policies such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
For example, if your employee takes a month off to care for his grandmother, is that considered leave under the FMLA or part of his unlimited vacation? Tailoring your policy to comply with these laws is necessary to avoid legal problems.
- Overworked employees: Offering no specific vacation time could cause people to not take time off at all, which could make others feel guilty for taking vacation days. On the other hand, employees who do take time off might feel like they’re working all the time if their tasks still follow when they’re “on vacation.”
- Coordinating schedules: Imagine the nightmare of an empty office if everyone’s out on vacation at the same time. What if everyone wants to take Christmas off but your office still needs to be open? Overlapping vacations could become a serious problem if you don’t put someone in charge of managing employee schedules.
Have I convinced you that an unlimited policy won’t work? Well, hold on a second. Companies such as Evernote and HubSpot have this type of vacation policy and use it to draw top talent to their companies and increase employee engagement.
At my company, we’ve used this type of policy successfully for years. So how do we do it?
How to Implement a New Vacation Policy
The success of your vacation policy has almost everything to do with how it’s introduced. The transition period can be hectic and confusing, so it’s important to proceed with caution. Consider these steps for creating a policy your staff can appreciate.
- Ask your team. Poll everyone on your team to see what kind of vacation policy they want before making any changes. Be aware that people might not like the idea initially, then change their minds once they see that it’s enforced fairly. However, there’s no reason to change if everyone’s happy with your existing policy.
- Make sure it meets your company’s unique needs. This type of policy may not align with your company culture, but if you’re flexible in implementing it, you’ll probably find some type of unlimited vacation policy that works for you.
- Implement a workflow management system. When an employee is out on a much-needed vacation, someone else is left behind to pick up the slack. You need a clear system for taking care of projects, accounts, and other time-sensitive issues. Make sure you can reach employees on vacation in case of an emergency. Employees back at the office should never feel abused by the system.
- Set guidelines. Have a structure in place that requires employees to give notice about their planned vacations well in advance. Work with your management team to make sure too many people are never out at one time and no one is taking advantage of the program.
- Be open to policy evolution. Your policy may change over time, and that’s OK. Evaluate the success of your open vacation policy by gauging employee productivity and stress levels before and after the change. Listen to their feedback about how to adapt the policy while trusting they know what makes them happy.
The thought of implementing an unlimited vacation policy might have you worried employees will skip out on work and head to the beach every other week. But giving employees the freedom to make their own schedules and manage their workflow will improve accountability and create a trusting environment. They’ll be grateful for your flexibility, and you’ll see a boost in productivity. So what are you waiting for?
Ben Kirshner is the CEO of Elite SEM, a fast-growing online marketing agency with a passion for building a team of industry experts. Elite SEM recently claimed the No. 1 spot on Mashable’s list of “Top 7 Tech Companies to Work For” and Crain’s New York Business’ list of “Best Place to Work 2013.” Ben can be found on Twitter or Google+.
Dawn Bowman | Courtesy of Author