Welcome to Benefits on the Fringe, a new column from Recruiter.com writer Jason McDowell. Every month, McDowell will cover the most unique benefits that today's employers are using to woo talent, as well as advances and innovations in the employee benefits realm.
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If there's one thing workers don't want to run out of, it's vacation days. Often, employees wind up rolling over or taking payouts for vacation days because they didn't have enough remaining to do anything useful. Or worse, they hoard the days because they are afraid they might need them for an emergency that never comes.
Who wants to live that way? Employees who don't take time away from the office now and then have higher levels of stress, according to a recent poll from NPR. Stressful employees are unhappy employees, and the last thing any company wants is a dissatisfied labor force. Overworked employees are more likely to seek other employment opportunities – and less likely to do good work.
Unlimited Streaming Videos ... and Days Off
Netflix approached this problem from another angle. In 2004, the video streaming service trashed vacation packages altogether and offered its staff unlimited vacation days. Since then, other major companies – including General Electric, LinkedIn, Grubhub, and Virgin Group – have also implemented unlimited holiday packages.
At the very least, unlimited vacation can be a valuable recruiting tool. In fact, 52 percent of candidates would accept a job offer if unlimited vacation were available, according to a survey from insurance intermediary Towergate Insurance.
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The program would have other notable impacts on the workforce as well.
"There are two benefits. One is the perception of the company in the employee's eye and the other is staff satisfaction," says Jonathan Falgate, digital content manager at Towergate Insurance. "By offering unlimited holiday, you're perceived to surrender control of how long your staff must work. It also instills a feeling of trust by creating a workplace of individuals, rather than a one-size-fits-all holiday entitlement. It's no surprise that staff satisfaction increases when they have the flexibility to take as much as time off as they like for as long as they wish."
The biggest drawback, of course, is the risk that employees would misuse the program.
"An entitlement to unlimited holiday is naturally open to abuse," Falgate says. "Put simply, if not enough work is being done because people are taking too much time off, something has to change. A business cannot survive [under those conditions]. A business is still a business, and its employees must balance productivity with time off."
Breaking Out of the 9-to-5 Mindset
As Netflix has shown, businesses that aren't afraid to try something new can reap huge rewards. The company has gone from a DVD-mailing service in the late 1990s to the world's largest video streaming service, carried by a workforce built on trust and respect.
"There are a number of reasons why so many companies are trying new ideas like offering unlimited holidays," Falgate says, "To recruit the best staff, you have to go above and beyond your competitors, and you have to find ways to retain your current workforce. Companies are listening to what's important to their staff to improve their well-being."
Respondents to Towergate's survey seem to worry that their coworkers will abuse unlimited vacation programs, with 70 percent of female and 60 percent of male employees saying that their companies should not switch to unlimited vacation packages.
"We could speculate that, from an employee's perspective, unlimited holiday would allow staff in the company to take too much time off, adding the workload to others in the team or company, and for this reason it could be an issue," Falgate says.
That worry operates on the assumption that the company would allow the abuse, but that is not a given. For example, while Netflix workers are trusted to take as many days as they want on their own recognizance, those who abuse the program or who don't perform consistently at top level are sent packing.
So if your workforce seems to carry a stress load that just won't go away, consider putting a little more trust in them. After all, if the job's getting done, why shouldn't your employees be able to take off as many days as they want?