In America, vacation is a privilege, not a right. The U.S. is the only developed country that doesn't guarantee paid time off to workers. One in four private sector employees have to give up their wages for any time away, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. But a host of new companies are recognizing that paid vacation might actually be good for their bottom line. Contact management firm, FullContact, is even paying its staff $7,500 to take their paid time off, reports Business Insider.
"The past few years I've had this totally insane idea that just wouldn't go away. It kept gnawing at me," co-founder Bart Lorang wrote on the company's blog.
The idea was not only a vacation with pay, but paying for a vacation. Given that people are sometimes anxious about taking time off from work, and anxious about spending thousands of dollars on a whimsical excursion, he decided to pay his employees $7,500 to take their paid time off.
Why $7,500? It's "enough for a family of four to take a nice vacation to Mexico for a week." But Lorang is placing no prescriptions on how to spend the break. He may personally enjoy "being on the water at an exotic location," but other employees like long March Madness weekends in Vegas, body-painting themselves at music festivals or "hanging on the couch, eating Taco Bell and watching bad cable all week."
But there is one major condition of this gift: Employees are not allowed to work at all. Not only are they not allowed to work, they're not allowed to check emails, or Facebook, or Twitter, or anything that connects them to the crazed pinging and zinging and dinging of the real world.
This isn't simple generosity, Lorang explains. He thinks it'll build a better business. Not only will employees return refreshed and productive and not on the verge of a mental breakdown, but they will hopefully be a stronger a team. Especially at a startup, he writes, there's "often a misguided hero syndrome," where people enjoy feeling like the only person who can do a particular task. But actually relying on a single employee isn't a very good model, Lorang thinks. He hopes his new policy will encourage sharing and delegating and trust.
Other companies are radically reimagining vacation time. Netflix, as part of its "freedom and responsibility culture," offers its employees unlimited vacation time, so that productivity is gauged by amount of work done, rather than the number of days spent sitting in the office.
Note-taking technology firm Evernote takes the same approach. "We always try to ask whether a particular policy exists because it's a default piece of corporate stupidity that everyone expects you to have, or does it actually help you accomplish something?" CEO Phil Libin told The New York Times. By eliminating vacation limits, he feels employees are treated more like "adults" and the office like less of a "punishment." At the same time, employees are judged by the same criterion: "Did you accomplish something great?"
It's nothing less than a fundamental redefinition of work. No longer is your job an amount of time you spend doing what you're paid to do; it's completing tasks you're paid to complete.
These policies go even further than Europe, where vacation has long been a sacred right. The European Union requires that every worker gets at least four weeks of paid vacation a year, and last month, the continent's highest court ruled that if you get sick on your vacation, your company has to let you take another vacation.
There is one issue with unlimited paid vacation time, however. Notoriously work-obsessed Americans may not actually take it. As it stands, a majority of Americans leave an average of 11 vacation days unused a year, according to a 2011 survey. That's the particular genius of FullContact's scheme. "You have to go on vacation," Lorang writes, "or you don't get the money."
What would you do if your employer offered you money to take a vacation -- or unlimited time off? Share in the comments section below.
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