For many of us, the workplace is a different world than the Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 version we understood in the 20th Century. Fueled by technology and augmented by the increasingly globalized scale and scope of business, workers today are part of a broadly shifting milieu, and expectations surrounding benefits are similarly shifting to match evolving demands.
One key question that's arisen is this: How does our concept of employee personal time stand to change? The processes for how we get it and how we pay for it are both under fresh consideration.
"In our corporate culture today, employees often feel their employers will think less of them if they even take all the vacations owed them," says Kim Garretson, director of Realizing Innovation, the event website platform at Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. "But we're just starting to see a trend, very aligned with the emerging younger workforce, for unlimited vacation offerings and incentives to encourage getaway vacations."
That's a near-future development that more than one expert maintains is on its way. So we turn to the nature of the employee vacation—specifically, what it might look like in a few short years.
The core of many of the newly proposed time-off models work like this: paid time away from work, with an unlimited number of days that can be used for vacation, illness or any personal reason. One company at which the process is already underway is Netflix, according to a recent report by NBC News.
Granted, the way personal time off breaks out for businesses stands to look different in different iterations. In Minnesota, for instance, Blue Cross and Blue Shield have partnered with a vacation-system builder, Adestinn, to offer companies an employer-matched vacation savings account. This plan would boost every employee contribution at participating companies by 50 cents on the dollar. Workers would then be given access to discount rates at leading hotel brands, without blackout dates. The new system is set to start in January 2015.
And while progressive vacation plans can take more than one form, at its most basic, the prospect of opening the floodgates to an unlimited number of days, when it comes to personal time off for employees, isn't a prospect that's making every worker happy. Christine DiDonato, founder of Career Revolution, an employee and leadership development firm, says she's seen big companies innovate along the lines of vacation time, only to see senior employees push back.
"I was part of the decision to throw out our legacy vacation policy, opting for a new 'adult' policy," she says, referring to her prior time in human resources at Sony. "This meant no one accrued time or tracked it. Despite the fact that no one was losing anything but rather gaining flexibility and unlimited time off, the more-tenured employees voiced opposition in not wanting newer and younger employees to have the benefit of additional time—the time they had 'earned' through years with the company."
It's the younger voice in the workforce, however, that could well hold sway as future decision-makers iterate benefits for an incoming generation.
The Millennial Factor
"Many American workers don't use up all their vacation time as it is, and few get paid out if they don't use it," says Tim Glowa, co-founder and partner at business analytics company Bug Insights. "Combine this with the ingredients for a perfect storm—aging employees. Few [companies] have the right programs in place to attract millennials, who expect a seamless integration of work-life throughout their day."
At his company, Glowa says attracting those millennials is about engendering trust, from top-level management down. "We only want to hire employees whom we trust 100 percent, and therefore, we don't believe this will be abused," he says of the new vacation models at his firm. "And if someone is so skilled that they can deliver the work of a full-time employee in half the time needed, then good for them.
"For salaried employees, the cost of additional time out of the office is essentially nonexistent," he adds "since many will deliver the same amount of work over the year. Even large firms can improve employee engagement today by giving all employees more time away from the office."
All of this, however, might be best geared toward a certain kind of worker. What manner of vacation innovation can be expected, wonders Amy Gulati, a human capital consultant at Helios HR, when it comes to less "portable" gigs?
"An unlimited vacation policy can be a great tool for motivation and engagement in a company where most employees are knowledge workers and have responsibilities that provide them with the necessary latitude," Gulati says. "But in a production environment—warehousing, manufacturing, retail—employers have to manage staff scheduling too closely to allow this type of freedom."
The future is coming, then, but perhaps it's coming for knowledge workers first. A frontier for next steps in vacation innovation could truly lie at the end of that other, perhaps more labor-intensive road.
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