Category Archives: vacation time

Back From Vacation — And Stressed

That week in the Bahamas was everything you’d hoped it would be. And now it’s Monday, your first day back at the office — and life stinks.

If this scenario rings true to you (regardless of whether said vacation was in the Bahamas, Disney World or your own backyard), then take heart in knowing you’re hardly alone: Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of 1,000 full-time U.S. workers polled by training and communications firm Fierce Inc. say they’re either more stressed or have the same level of stress upon returning to work after taking paid time off. The reasons why aren’t that surprising, with most respondents citing having to catch up on missed work, followed by having to readjust to “a work mindset” and needing to resolve major issues that arose while they were away.

Not all employees feel equally stressed, however, with only 14 percent of respondents who said they were “very satisfied” with their job feeling more stressed returning from vacation. Meanwhile, 38 percent of those who reported being unsatisfied with their jobs said they felt more stressed returning to work.

“The fact that returning to work is a stressful situation speaks volumes to the lack of support many employees feel both leading up to, and returning from, vacation,” says Stacey Engle, Fierce’s executive vice president of marketing.

Interestingly, while more than half of employees believe their managers support and encourage them to take time off, only 40 percent say the same of their co-workers. Once again, there’s a correlation between this factor and job satisfaction, with 57 percent of those unsatisfied with their current job saying no one encourages or supports them in taking paid time off, while just 18 percent of those who are very satisfied say the same. Lower-paid employees also report a lack of support, with 45 percent of those with annual household incomes of $50,000 or less saying no one encourages them to take a vacation. Meanwhile, less than 30 percent of employees who make $100,000 a year or more say no one encourages them to take time off.

Then there’s the perennial issue of under-vacationed Americans: Although a third of the Fierce survey respondents say they receive 20 or more vacation days each year, one in every five say they receive less than 10. Not surprisingly, younger and lower-paid workers tend to receive the least PTO days. By way of comparison, countries within the European Union require a minimum of four weeks (20 days) of paid leave for all workers, while a number of them(such as Germany and Switzerland) are even more generous.

Given that there is no national law requiring paid time off in the U.S., employees and HR need to keep the lines of communication open regarding the issue of vacation. As Fierce’s Engle says, “employees need to feel empowered to ask for what they need, and managers must be open to hearing concerns of these employees.”

Unlimited Vacation and Productivity

Since the earliest days of unlimited PTO policies, supporters have argued they are more likely to help productivity than hurt it. A new analysis of data supports that claim.

In a report titled HR Mythbusters 2017, developers of the HR technology platform Namely analyze their data from 2016 to test the notion that unlimited vacation does more good than harm.

The result: Employees with unlimited time took an average of 13 days off, during the year, compared to 15 days for employees with a traditional allowance.

“The data prove that on average employees with unlimited PTO plans do in fact take less time off than employees with a set amount of vacation days,” the report authors write. “This calls for a change in the way HR teams and managers communicate about time off.”

In a related finding, the Namely analysis compared vacation-time usage with job performance. The result: “High performers tended to take an average of 19 vacation days per year, while individuals who scored lower took only 14.”

No Break for the Burned Out

With the long Memorial Day weekend less than 24 hours away, where will you be staying as the unofficial start of summer gets underway?

For at least one-third of your employees, the answer is likely “at home.”

That’s according to a recent CareerBuilder survey of 3,215 employed U.S. adults, 33 percent of whom said they haven’t taken or don’t plan to take a vacation this year.

Not surprisingly, many workers say they could use a break, with 61 percent reporting that they are burned out in their current job, and 31 percent describing their work-related stress levels as “high” or “extremely high.”

The better news is that some of these overextended employees will still be able to find some time to get away this year. Sort of.

Among the remaining respondents who will be taking vacation sometime this year, three in 10 say they will still stay connected with work while on holiday. More specifically, 31 percent said they check work email while away, and 18 percent indicated that they would “check in” with work at least once during that time.

Workers feeling stressed out is far from a new phenomenon. And we’ve seen at least a handful of studies in recent years that have suggested many employees are leaving vacation days on the table each year, for a variety of reasons. The CareerBuilder survey, for instance, finds 36 percent of respondents saying they’ve come back from vacation with so much work to do that they wished they never left at all. Another 18 percent say taking vacation actually leaves them feeling more anguish over work.

The number of workers afraid of taking time off to recharge their batteries should be troubling.

Leaders within the organization—incidentally, the CareerBuilder poll sees senior management and vice presidents reporting the lowest stress levels of all workers—can set the tone for their teams, according to Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

“If you’re a boss, it’s important that you role model how to take a vacation,” said Haefner, in a statement.

“If you’re prone to answering every email and phone call that comes through on your own vacation time, consider the example you’re setting for your team members. You need to set up an automated response email, and only respond to absolutely urgent emails while you’re away,” she continues.

“Direct all calls to an assistant or colleague at the office. Show your employees that vacation time matters to you and to your company and its culture.”

‘Flexing’ to Close Gender Gap

Seventy percent of working mothers say having a flexible work schedule is extremely important to them, according to a Pew survey. (So do 48 percent of working fathers.)

To that end, a new job board is looking to leverage workplace flexibility to help close the gender gap, according to this new piece in the New York Times Upshot section:

A new job search company, Werk, is trying to address the [gender-gap] problem by negotiating for flexibility with employers before posting jobs, so employees don’t have to.

Facebook, Uber and Samsung are among the companies with job listings on the Werk site, in which all the positions listed “are highly skilled jobs that offer some sort of control over the time and place of work. People can apply to jobs that let them work away from the office all the time or some of the time, and at hours other than 9-to-5, part time or with minimal travel.”

Another option the site offers gives workers the freedom to adjust their schedules, no questions asked, because of unpredictable home and/or family obligations.

The story quotes Gerard Masci, founder and chief executive of Lowercase, a start-up eyeglass maker in Brooklyn, who just hired a vice president for communications on Werk. The company’s new hire works part-time and remotely, except for monthly in-person meetings.

“I don’t care if this week you work less if in a month you work more, and whether they work in the space or not is irrelevant,” Mr. Masci said. “All I care about is the productivity in the end.”

The full story is well worth a read for any HR leaders who are looking for ways to improve flexibility efforts without sacrificing productivity or quality talent.

 

Make Those Vacation Plans Today

Just a heads up that, if you’d like to join forces with the Entertainment Benefits Group and Project: Time Off in encouraging employees to take all their vacation time, today (Tuesday) is the day to get them poring over their calendars.

Both groups have joined together in a Jan. 31 “call to action” for more American workers to get a “jumpstart on planning their vacation,” according to this release from the EBG. In the words of Brett Reizen, president and CEO of EBG:

“[Our] mission is to bring fun and happiness to people’s lives by providing employees nationwide direct access to special offers on top travel and entertainment products across the country. Living in a work-driven culture where vacation and time off is essential, we embraced the chance to … foster work/life balance, boost employee happiness and increase productivity in the workplace.”

(EBG, a U.S. corporate travel and entertainment benefits program, will support the initiative by providing employers and their employees access to exclusive offers on premier travel and entertainment experiences through its corporate programs division — TicketsatWork, Plum Benefits and Working Advantage.)

PTO’s release on the big day tomorrow is full of some stats from a recent survey it conducted that you might find interesting — if not alarming — such as:

“Americans leave 658 million days unused each year. The single-most important step workers can take is to plan their time off in advance. Yet less than half — 49 percent — of households set aside time to plan the use of their vacation time each year.”

Also, according to the PTO research, 51 percent of those who plan their vacation took all of their time off, where just 39 percent of non-planners did, and 69 percent of planners took a week or more of vacation time, where just 46 percent of non-planners did.

We’ve posted our own vacation red flags and statistics for employers here on HRE Daily, including the huge number of “under-vacationed” employees and some of the reasons for it, such as the fact that others in the workplace — managers and co-workers — tend to shame vacation-takers.

If reading up on the merits of enforcing or, at least, encouraging the taking of all allotted vacation time, consider these additional stats from PTO’s research:

  • The time spent planning correlated with greater happiness in nine categories, including:

    • 85 percent of planners report they are happier with their relationships with their significant other, compared to 72 percent of non-planners.
    • 69 percent of planners, compared to 60 percent of non-planners, report being happy with their relationships with their children.
    • 81 percent of planners say they are happy with their financial situation, compared to 71 percent of non-planners.
    • 90 percent of planners are happy with their professional success, compared to 82 percent of non-planners.

Now, whether taking vacations led to this increased happiness and success or happy, successful people are the ones more likely to take all of their vacation time is unclear.

What is clear, to me anyway, is employers have nothing to lose and a lot to gain, including in employee productivity and engagement, by making sure employees are getting out of the office as much as they’re entitled to.

Taking Time Off for Election Day

I got to my local polling place at 6:50 a.m. today, pretty pleased with myself for having the foresight to show up 10 whole minutes before the polls opened.

I knew I wouldn’t be the first in line. But, based on what I saw as I pulled into the parking lot, I’d say at least 150 to 200 of my fellow Harleysville, Pa., residents had thought much further ahead than I had.

As heartened as I was by the sight of democracy in action, I wasn’t as excited about standing in the line that snaked down the sidewalk outside of Oak Ridge Elementary School. Sub-40 degree temperatures and cranky back aside, my biggest worry was that I might wind up getting to work later than I had planned when I carefully mapped out my election day schedule last night.

Petty concerns on a day of this magnitude, to be sure. And I was actually able to wrap up my civic duty and get on my way to work in about 25 minutes. And, we have flexible schedules here at HRE headquarters anyway, so it really didn’t matter when I showed up at the office. I just didn’t want to feel like I was running behind all day long.

Some workers won’t face such dilemmas today.

As the Washington Post reports, a handful of companies including General Motors, Patagonia and Western Union are giving employees the day off so they can go vote. (Patagonia “is taking it a step further and closing its stores,” according to the Post.)

These organizations are among the 330 joining a Twitter campaign that maintains a running list of companies that offer employees time off in order to vote, according to the Post, which notes that the social media movement began this summer when venture capitalist Hunter Walk asked California-based start-up founders to provide employees with time off on election day.

Arlington, Va.-based Distil Networks is one of these companies. CEO Rami Essaid, 33, came to America from Syria at a young age and, with early help from government technology funding, founded Distil in 2011 and has since grown it to include a few hundred employees, the Post notes.

Coming from a country that’s currently wracked by civil war and a subsequent refugee crisis, the gravity of this election isn’t lost on Essaid. He tried to impress its importance on Distil employees in an impassioned, companywide email.

“Once every couple of years, we get a chance in the U.S. that many people around the world don’t ever get the opportunity to experience,” he wrote, “and that is to choose who will represent us nationally and globally.

“ … As a Syrian-American, I can’t take the opportunity to vote for granted and I ask that you don’t either,” continued Essaid. “On election day, DO NOT come to work UNTIL you vote.”

Essaid, who in an interview with the Post declined to express support for either candidate, told the paper that Distil is also sponsoring an election day happy hour for employees showing their “I voted” stickers.

Encouraging or even incentivizing employees to vote is one thing. Trying to influence who workers choose at the ballot box is quite another, of course. Reston, Va.-based technology company Canvas is treading lightly.

According to the Post, Canvas chief executive James Quigley has given all employees the day off today, “but not before he made them check their voter registrations online, handing out mobile devices for them to do so.”

While noting that Canvas employees are generally “aware of some company leaders’ [political] leanings,” Quigley also pointed out that he hasn’t “explicitly push[ed] employees” to vote for one candidate or another.

“Clearly we live in a very blue area, and the company in general has more of those values,” Quigley told the Post. “It was clear what some members of our senior staff thought, but we tried to be soft about pushing people one way or the other.”

Trading PTO for Perks

It happens all the time: The end of the year rolls around, and busy employees find themselves with handfuls of unused vacation days, and too much work to feel good about cashing them in.

But what if they could still get something of value in exchange for that paid time off?

A new start-up is enabling employees to do just that.

As recently reported in the Washington Post, PTO Exchange has just begun working with Premera Blue Cross to let the health insurer’s workers trade in the value of their unused paid time off for other perks, which could include added contributions to 401(k) accounts, putting money toward college tuition expenses, getting reimbursement for travel expenses or making a donation to a favorite charity.

While Premera Blue Cross is PTO Exchange’s first and only client thus far, co-founder Rob Whalen told the Post that PTO Exchange has heard from “150 interested companies, including large retailers and pharmaceutical firms, and is in advanced discussions with several major [HR] consulting firms.”

Organizations are “trying to offer flexibility to their employees,” Whalen told the paper. “They currently have this benefit on the books, and it’s budgeted—they might as well find ways to use it.”

The notion of offering workers the opportunity to swap paid time off for other perks “is a brand new concept meant to meet an emerging workforce need,” says Craig Dolezal, senior vice president at Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Aon Hewitt.

We could very well see others emerging to provide a similar service, he says.

“Like all innovations in benefits, there typically is a leader that drives a potential solution first, with others more than willing to create their own version once there is a real market need. … If more adopt [the PTO Exchange] model, we will most certainly see others build comparable solutions.”

Whether that happens, of course, is predicated on the idea that exchanging PTO days for other needs or wants passes all legal, administrative, compliance and financial tests, adds Dolezal.

Indeed, employers and HR have much to consider before rolling out such a benefit to the workforce.

“The very first place to focus is on the alignment with an employer’s business, cultural and human capital strategies,” says Dolezal. “Does this type of total benefits flexibility benefit the organization and [its] people? Does the exchange work in concert with [the company’s] broader workforce management approaches?”

If the answer to those questions is yes, then the company “would need to explore the legal and financial viability of the exchange and test the administrative approach,” he says, “to ensure this potentially new benefit can work seamlessly alongside other total rewards programs.”

 

Do You Walk the Talk of Work/Life Like This One?

Headshot - Shani Godwin
Shani Godwin, Communiqué USA

I just got off the phone with Shani Godwin, the fascinating CEO of a small business in Smyrna, Ga., called Communiqué USA — and, rather than wait another minute before getting her whole work/life approach into a post, I’m typing now. That’s how much her message has inspired me.

She caught my eye in an initial email spelling out the details of a policy she implemented many years ago — long before France announced its new law last April banning all employees from emailing for work past 6 p.m.

In Godwin’s case, she disallows her employees to email for work past 7 p.m. on weeknights and throughout the weekends. And she’s been doing that — and much, much more — almost since she founded her company 14 years ago because of her sincere belief that your employees are only as good as the people you allow them to be.

And that, she would tell you, includes parents who need to be at a bus stop at 2:30 p.m., or a T-ball game for an entire afternoon, or a school play or doctor’s appointment. It includes elder-caregivers who need to tend to Mom or Dad, or a spouse or significant other, or God forbid, a loved one in hospice.

It also includes any and all employees who are sick for however long it takes them to get well (I was talking to Godwin the day she returned from being out for a full week with the flu), or who might simply be feeling burned out and in need of time away from the office or maybe a two-week vacation. (If you’re wondering how far afield this vacation concept is, read Mike O’Brien’s HRE Daily post about the upsurge among millennials of what’s being called “vacation shame.”)

“People loan themselves to the job every day,” says Godwin. “If I can’t give back so these people can enjoy the first 18 years of a child’s life, then what good am I and what good are they?” In fact, she chooses to have happy, balanced employees instead of what seems to still dominate the corporate American workforce (drained, overworked and always-on, 24/7, workaholics. ) She insists on it. She even makes her email policy and work/life commitment part of every client contract.

“We don’t finalize any assignment involving clients and employees until all details are clear and agreed upon,” she says. “If the person we’re assigning the contract to needs to be at the bus stop at a certain time every day, it’s written into the contract. So is the fact that no one from our company will be getting back to the client via email past 7 p.m. or on weekends.”

How do clients feel about that? They seem to be more accepting than employees, it seems.

“We have to be very strict and policing sometimes about keeping to this commitment to balance,” Godwin says. “Employees, employers, society in general, we’re all connected. To truly have balance, you need strict boundaries, and you need to adhere to them. It’s never been the clients who need reminding; it’s actually the employees. We have to say, ‘Hey, we saw you sent that email at 8 p.m. … don’t do that again.’ ”

In the last year, “the company has grown, project by project, from five employees to 15,” she says. Albeit still a very small company, it’s big enough now to demand a more systemic, structured, formalized and policy-driven approach if everyone is going to really adhere to her be-good-to-yourself and be-free restrictions. “For my staff,” she says, “I encourage them all to decide to what extent they want to work.”

That means, if work builds up and there’s too much for an employee with small children to handle, given his or her work/life-balance criteria, Godwin says, “we just hire someone else to fill that need and our message to the current employee is, ‘Thank you for doing your personal best to create another job for another person to come in.’ Rather than simply ‘rewarding’ them with more work [which no doubt goes on in corporate America far more than we think, methinks], we create another job so that person is still protected and able to pick up her kids every day.”

So where does this most-unique position in business come from? All the way back to when Godwin was a member of corporate America herself, with advertising and marketing stints at Bell South and Chick-fil-A, as well as other large employers.

“Fourteen years ago, I could not envision how I could possibly keep up the schedule I had and ever have a life, or ever even entertain the thought of having a family.”

She remembers asking herself back then, “How can I really be there for ballet classes and baseball games? That’s simply not going to happen.”

“I personally believe we have no company without our employees and if they’re happy and living balanced lives, they’ll be energized and productive, and the clients will be treated well,” says Godwin.

“There no sense in bugging someone to give you [a report or piece of information] while they’re attending a funeral” or involved in a birth … or even just a kid’s activity.

“It’s been a personal decision for me to put people before profit,” she says, and it appears to be paying off in terms of retention, morale and employee-satisfaction results.

Could it work in the same corporate America she left 14 years ago? I guess we won’t know until we try.

Playing the ‘Vacation Shame’ Game

Just when you thought it was safe to take a vacation …

According to new research, vacation shaming — or the concept of being made to feel a sense of shame or guilt from co-workers for taking a vacation — has apparently become a thing to discuss and fret over in the American workplace these days, particularly among millennials.

The nonscientific survey of 1,500 U.S. adults in the 2016 Alamo Family Vacation Survey — brought to you by the same folks who will gladly rent you a car during your next vacation! — finds more employed millennials (59 percent) reported feeling a sense of shame for taking or planning a vacation than those 35 or older (41 percent).

But before you start feeling pangs of empathy for these younger workers, it should be noted that shame is apparently a two-way street, according to the survey:

Employed millennials aren’t just more likely to feel vacation-shamed – they’re significantly more likely than older generations to say they also shame their co-workers (42 percent vs. 24 percent).

Plus, the survey finds millennials who have ever shamed their co-workers were significantly more likely than older generations to say they’re at least somewhat serious (42 percent vs. 22 percent).

While millennials were most likely to feel guilty about taking time off, Alamo’s research indicates that vacation shaming is affecting all generations. To wit, nearly half (47 percent) of all workers surveyed said they felt a sense of shame or guilt at their workplace for taking time off to go on a vacation. What’s more, two-fifths (42 percent) of those think their co-workers are seriously shaming them – not just joking.

Twenty-two percent of those employed individuals surveyed reported that feeling shame was at least somewhat likely to keep them from going on or planning a vacation.

“This year’s research indicates that vacation shaming is a real workplace issue that can, in some cases, discourage hard-working Americans from taking well-deserved time off with their families,” said Rob Connors, vice president of brand marketing for Alamo Rent A Car. “In addition, our survey shows employees continue to leave a large percentage of paid vacation days on the table.”

While the issue of vacation shaming among co-workers may actually be a minor one, HR leaders should note that 47 percent said they’ve felt the need to justify to their employer why they’re using their vacation days. So, apparently shaming isn’t just limited to co-workers, and that may just be the most shameful part of all of this.

The High Cost of Warm Fuzzies

I admit the following with a recently delivered dash of remorse: I am an avowed Amazon Prime customer and I always get a “warm fuzzy” when a product I ordered in the morning arrives on my front porch before I even get home from work.

With that said, reading the New York Timesrecent in-depth look at Amazon’s corporate culture definitely left me with a “cold prickly,” or what the company calls the feeling customers get when they are informed their packages will not arrive as scheduled.

In case you haven’t read the piece yet — and I highly recommend you do — the Times “interviewed more than 100 current and former Amazon employees, including many who spoke on the record and some who requested anonymity because they had signed agreements saying they would not speak to the press.”

One of the few employees Amazon allowed to speak on the record (via email) for the piece was its vice president of HR, who defended the company’s attitude toward open confrontation in the workplace:

“We always want to arrive at the right answer,” said Tony Galbato, vice president for human resources, in an email statement. “It would certainly be much easier and socially cohesive to just compromise and not debate, but that may lead to the wrong decision.”

The story about the company that has just been valued at $250 billion has generated enough controversy that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who declined to be interviewed for the original story, nonetheless felt compelled to push back against some of the more damaging claims made in it, according to a follow-up piece by the Times:

In a letter to employees, Mr. Bezos said Amazon would not tolerate the “shockingly callous management practices” described in the article. He urged any employees who knew of “stories like those reported” to contact him directly.

“Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero,” Mr. Bezos said.

The NYT piece quotes Jason Merkoski, a 42-year-old engineer, who worked on the team developing the first Kindle e-reader and served as a technology evangelist for Amazon, who left the company in 2010 and then returned briefly in 2014.

Among the many disheartening stories of uncaring — or even malicious — co-workers, Merkoski’s quote perhaps best sums up the queasy essence of how work gets done there:

“The sheer number of innovations means things go wrong, you need to rectify, and then explain, and heaven help you if you got an email from Jeff,” he said. “It’s as if you’ve got the CEO of the company in bed with you at 3 a.m. breathing down your neck.”

Jason Averbook, CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Co., and one of the top thought leaders in the space of HR, workforce and enterprise technology — as well as being named as one of the 10 Most Powerful HR Technology experts by HRE — says the Amazon story offers a few powerful lessons for HR leaders everywhere.

“We need to be able to understand the pulse of employees much better than we do today,” he says. “It should never get to the point where employees see news media or social media as the only resort.

“And for a metrics-driven organization such as Amazon, it’s a shame and a shock that neither Bezos nor team leaders across the organization have quality people data that shows what’s at work in their teams. Because of this dearth of people data, we cannot truly know what their culture is like, and this situation emphasizes the need for reliable, real-time measures of team-level data for companies of all sizes.”

Averbook adds that companies need to “be doing a much better job of putting tools into the hands of team leaders themselves to empower them to take action.”

With the volume of millennials entering the workplace — even in managerial roles — “we need to provide both the training and tools to allow them to lead effectively,” he says. “It’s a reminder for companies to take a look at their current processes and identify how they need to improve now.

“This is the kick in the pants HR and companies need,” he adds. “If there was ever a question about the return on investment of HR tools and processes, the Amazon debacle should resolve those concerns as long as they are the right tools and processes.”

But, despite the public-relations black eye the story has caused Amazon, it certainly appears the company will continue to grow toward being the first trillion-dollar retailer in history, regardless of how we feel about the way our packages and products ultimately get to us.

Indeed, in Seattle alone, according to the piece, “more than 4,500 jobs are open, including one for an analyst specializing in ‘high-volume hiring.’ “