Category Archives: vacation time

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.’ “

Happy Vacation Commitment Day!

Today, we pause from our daily grind to mark the first annual Vacation Commitment Day, a day for both employers and employees to acknowledge the importance of taking regular vacations and commit to taking them regularly.

The concept springs from Seattle-based Take Back Your Time, a non-profit organization (sponsored by Diamond Resorts International) working to improve lives by eliminating the epidemic of overwork in America.

The recently launched Vacation Commitment Initiative aims to change the culture around paid vacation in America by fostering corporate support in encouraging employees to take their earned time off. To that end, the organization has created a free Vacation Commitment toolkit, which can be downloaded at, and provides turnkey resources for companies to implement the program within their organizations. Employers will have access to an internal communications plan, sample correspondence, tips and discounts on vacations for employees and more.

Another part of the initiative is the Vacation Commitment pledge, which invites employees to sign a petition that signifies their willingness to take all of their paid vacation time this year.

“We know that folks always have the best intentions about taking their time off,” said John de Graaf, President of Take Back Your Time. “We’re hoping that if they actually learn about why it’s important for their mental and physical well-being, and that they take a few moments to sign the petition, they will actually follow through the process of actually taking the time away.”

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go schedule some vacation time of my own…

Home (From Work) For the Holidays

empty cubeIt’s that time of year, when workloads lighten and the holidays are just ahead, and employees begin to cash in the blocks of paid days off they’ve been banking all year long.

At the risk of getting all Grinchy just eight days before Christmas, we invite you to take a look at SHRM’s new Total Financial Impact of Employee Absences Survey, which finds 75 percent of 1,280 HR professionals saying employee absences “carry hidden costs that can [affect] an organization’s productivity and revenue,” according to a SHRM statement.

That’s not all that surprising, and the survey was commissioned by Kronos Inc., which does provide workforce-management software and services, after all. So make of that figure what you will.

But one interesting finding from the survey, as this recent Washington Post article points out, is the difference in how United States-based HR professionals view the impact of unplanned work absences—defined in the survey as times when employees are sick, say they’re sick, or have to stay home to attend to personal matters—in comparison to those in other countries.

In the poll, 61 percent of U.S.-based respondents said unplanned absences increase stress for others in the workplace, while that number dipped to 54 percent and 51 percent in Australia and Europe, respectively. In addition, 48 percent of American respondents reported that unplanned absences hurt morale at the office, while just 36 percent and 31 percent said the same in Europe and Australia.

In an interview with the Post, SHRM Director of Survey Programs Evren Esen hypothesized that cultural norms in the U.S. may help explain these differing views of work absences—be they planned or unplanned. Indeed, as we’ve noted in the past, employees here in the States still aren’t guaranteed paid vacation time, and workers are sometimes hesitant to take advantage of the paid time off they do have available to them.

“There should not be a stigma for taking your vacation,” Esen told the paper, “but it’s evolved into that. And I think that’s [why] there may be a little bit of resentment or stress when others are out. ‘You’re taking vacation, or you’re sick, but I’m here and I have to deal with this.’ In other cultures, it’s more of an expectation that you take your time.”

Maybe it’s the eat, drink and be merry mindset that starts to take over around the holidays, but doesn’t it seem like maybe we should take a cue from these other cultures, and (finally) start taking a bit more time away from work?

Working Hard for the Holidays

ThanksgivingLast week, HRE reported on the Heartland Monitor Poll, in which 45 percent of 1,000 employed Americans said there was “some chance” they will be working on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. Now, with Thanksgiving less than 24 hours away, we see more data suggesting a fair number of employees will spend at least the first leg of this holiday trifecta watching the clock at work instead of watching football on the couch.

Bloomberg BNA’s annual Thanksgiving Holiday Work Practices survey—conducted since 1980—found that 33 percent of 364 responding organizations are requiring at least some employees to work on Thanksgiving this year.

That number actually represents a 4 percent drop from Bloomberg’s 2013 Thanksgiving poll, but that’s cold comfort for those stuck at work tomorrow. (Incidentally, the Bloomberg survey finds employees responsible for public safety, security or maintenance are most likely to be among this group.)

On the bright side, however, 74 percent of the companies requiring Thanksgiving work will provide extra pay and/or leave. (That number stood at 55 percent last year.) Thirty-nine percent of these organizations will offer time-and-a-half pay, with 25 percent providing double-time pay. Ten percent will give those working on Thanksgiving both extra pay and compensatory time, while 8 percent of these employees will receive regular pay, and 7 percent will only be granted comp time for their efforts on Thanksgiving day.

Meanwhile, a recent CareerBuilder survey found 16 percent of 3,719 U.S. workers indicating they have to work on Thanksgiving (up from 14 percent in 2013).

More specifically, workers in leisure and hospitality (46 percent), retail (39 percent), healthcare (31 percent) and transportation and utilities (22 percent) will be leading the way among those most commonly reporting for duty on Thanksgiving, according to the study.

Interestingly, the same CareerBuilder poll found that nearly one in five employees will be giving thanks with colleagues tomorrow—even if they’re not working.

That’s right, 19 percent of respondents said they plan to celebrate the holiday with co-workers either in or out of the office.

I chuckled at that figure at first, as it struck me as odd that co-workers would be getting together on Thanksgiving, a day so associated with spending time with family and close friends. But I guess it’s not so strange that “family and close friends” would extend to include colleagues, given the bond that often forms among groups of people spending 40-plus hours a week together. And from an employer’s perspective, maybe it’s a sign that employees—or at least 19 percent of them—enjoy their co-workers and their work environment so much that they want to bring some of that atmosphere home for the holidays.

Looking to Employers for Pay-Gap Solutions

Plenty has been written about the pay gap between men and women in recent months.

188094090Indeed, as most of our readers know, the issue recently made news again when President Obama directed the Department of Labor to issue new rules requiring federal contractors to provide compensation data that includes a breakdown by race and gender.

In light of its ability to get much of anything through Congress these days, the Obama administration has lately been doing whatever it can through executive orders. But as a study released by Glassdoor earlier today suggests, it’s hardly the only interested party with a role to play.

Indeed, when Glassdoor recently surveyed 1,000 employees and job seekers, it found nearly six out of every 10 employees (57 percent) believe employers are in the best position to address pay gaps. This was followed by Congress (30 percent) and President Obama (14 percent).

Asked to specify how employers could make a difference, the respondents said:

  • New company policies around pay and comp (52 percent)
  • Clearer communication from senior leaders/HR about how raises are determined (45 percent)
  • Greater pay transparency (38 percent)
  • Government legislation (21 percent)
  • Employees threatening to leave and/or protests (17 percent)
  • New senior leaders (16 percent)

In many cases, the employees and job seekers indicated they’re looking to HR for clarification, with a fairly healthy portion of the respondents (43 percent) saying they believe the function is responsible for helping them understand how pay raises or cost-of-living increases are determined at their current employer.

Glassdoor’s career and workplace expert, Rusty Rueff, sees the findings as a wake-up call for employers …

Now is the time employers need to take a close look at their salary structure[s] and determine where pay gaps exist, then fix [them] so employees know exactly where they stand in terms of compensation within their organization.  When employees have a clearer understanding of how they’re being compensated without secrecy around salaries, not only can they feel empowered in their current jobs, they’re also often motivated to work toward the next level, which can improve productivity.”

Tied to that notion is the additional stat that more than one in three (36 percent) of the respondents do not believe they understand the process their employer uses to determine pay raises or cost-of-living increases.

As for how men versus women view their pay, more than 42 percent of women do not believe they received fair pay in their current jobs, compared to 34 percent of men. These numbers seem fairly consistent with other studies that have come before.

Glassdoor also asked respondents to check off workplace perks that would keep them satisfied, in those instances when employers might not be in a position to provide pay raises or cost-of-living increases. Here’s what it found they wanted:

  • 61 percent – more paid vacation days
  • 52 percent – more career opportunities
  • 50 percent – flexible work hours
  • 46 percent – option to work from home/remotely
  • 44 percent – company stock/shares
  • 34 percent – healthcare subsidy
  • 23 percent – gym membership
  • 21 percent – opportunities to work on new projects

I’m sure many of you won’t be too surprised to see what some of the top choices were.  I would imagine there are some similarities to what you’re seeing and hearing on your engagement and satisfaction surveys, assuming you’re regularly doing them. But that said, I figure it never hurts to see what the broader universe of employees and job seekers are saying matter most to them these days.

Just Another (Long) Day at the Office

long day 2In recent months, The Leader Board has touched on the issue of employees being unable to disconnect from work while on vacation. We’ve talked about how many United States workers aren’t guaranteed paid vacation time to begin with, and we’ve shared survey results showing a majority of American employees don’t use the vacation time they do have.

Now, here comes data that suggests U.S. workers are finding it harder and harder to even leave the office at all.

A recent survey from Milwaukee-based Right Management polled 325 employees, asking participants if workers in their organizations were working longer hours than five years ago. They said:

• Yes, a great deal (67 percent)

• Not really (23 percent)

• Yes, somewhat (10 percent)

So, a clear majority of the employees polled find themselves and their colleagues spending more time at the office.

And, according to Right, these workers are barely coming up for air while they’re there. Another Right survey saw 81 percent of 1,023 North American employees indicating they don’t typically take what they consider to be a proper lunch break at work. The grind doesn’t end after going home, either: A June 2013 poll from Right found more than one-third of 422 workers dealing with work-related emails outside of business hours.

Given the business climate of the past five years, these findings don’t come as a great shock. But they do help paint a picture of a frazzled workforce putting in more hours, dealing with more stress and perhaps becoming increasingly disgruntled as a result.

And that’s a picture that HR leaders—already battling to keep employee engagement levels high—probably don’t want to envision with a recovering economy (and job market) on the horizon.

United States Still a No-Vacation Nation

Just in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, this report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research confirms — yet again — that the United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee its workers any paid vacation time.

91892542, US flagWhat seems to be the problem here? Well, according to John Schmitt, senior economist and co-author of the CEPR report, No-Vacation Nation Revisited, “relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked.”

The report offers a stark reminder of what some of the other advanced economies are doing when it comes to paying for days off. Workers in the European Union, for instance, are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Canada and Japan guarantee at least 10 days of paid vacation per year.

On the contrary — and in case you missed the lead — U.S. workers have no statutory right to paid vacations.

The gap between the United States and the rest of the world is even bigger when legal holidays, such as Memorial Day, are included. According to the CEPR release, U.S. law does not guarantee any paid holidays, but most rich countries provide between five and 13 per year, in addition to paid vacation days.

As for what folks are saying or doing about the issue, according to this report Thursday from USA Today, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., introduced a bill this week that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide paid annual leave.

“We need it for the health and well-being of our workers,” Grayson says in the story. “We also need it for businesses, because people who are forced to work every single day lose productivity.”

The story also quotes James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, who cautions that employers take the cost of required benefits out of workers’ pay.

Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at another Washington think tank, the Cato Institute, further cautions in the story that, “When you make it more expensive to hire workers, fewer workers get hired.”

All that said, I would imagine the majority of U.S. workers would say something’s gotta give in this land of the free and home of the brave and overworked.

Workers Not Using All Their Vacation

Here’s a nugget of information for those of us lucky enough to be spending time at home with family and friends this holiday season to consider upon our return to work: 70 percent of Americans did not use all the vacation time due them in 2012, while just 30 percent said they had, according to a new survey from Right Management. Although Right Management’s survey, based on input from 703 workers who responded via an online poll that ran from Nov. 15 to Dec. 14, is not scientific, its findings are consistent with those from other surveys conducted this year and in years past. In fact, this year’s results were identical to a similar survey Right Management conducted last year.

Expedia’s Vacation Deprivation 2012 survey, conducted for the online-travel company by Harris Interactive, listed the United States, Canada and Mexico as “vacation-deprived.” (Gee, is there something about the North American continent that makes us so vacation-averse?). It found that even though Americans earn fewer vacation days than workers in most other industrialized countries, they still leave an average of 2 unused vacation days at the end of the year. In some cases, employes are simply planning ahead: 23 percent of respondents said they didn’t use all their days because they’re banking them for the future, while another 23 percent cited coordinating family schedules as a roadblock to taking vacation, 19 percent said they couldn’t afford it and 18 pecent said they had to schedule time too far in advance.

Monika Morrow, Right Management’s senior vice president for career management, cites the current economic climate as a reason so few Americans use all their vacation days. “This is a trend that’s grown during the recession and we may, in fact, have a new norm, which would be unfortunate. However important devotion to the job may be, there has to be some balance and vacation is so important to one’s health and happiness.”

Then there are those who, even when they’re on vacation, can’t tear themselves away from their work-related mobile devices (perhaps this necessitates a new buzzword: vacation presenteeism?). Germany’s No. 1 auto manufacturer is taking firm steps to combat this, however. According to a paper from the Wharton School, Volkswagen deactivates employees’ company-issued smartphones a half-hour after they leave the office so they can no longer send and receive email and reactivates them a half-hour prior to when they start work the next day. Interesting — but would we Americans, in the land of rugged individualism, tolerate such an approach?

Burning ‘Bridges’ to Keep Vacationers Working

I didn’t realize the United States was among the world’s standard-bearers when it comes to vacation ogres until I read this story in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required). Seems an attempt by the Spanish government to save tons of money lost in worker productivity by moving holidays to the beginnings and ends of weeks is something we did here long ago.

I did not know that.

I guess there must have been a time when U.S. workers were doing (a whole lot more than they do now) what Spaniards have been doing for years — “deploying paid vacation days as ‘puentes’ — literally bridges — to skip town for an extra-long weekend whenever public holidays fall in the middle three days of a week,” according to the story.

For one Spanish worker, Tatiana Restrepo, that meant 36 legally mandated days off (OK, that does it, we must really be ogres) turned into more than 50 days of rest and relaxation, weekends included. But now, trying to boost productivity in a sagging economy and join with other countries trying to contain Europe’s debt crisis, Spain’s unions and business associations have agreed to suppress three bridges by moving those holidays to Mondays.

“The two sides, which rarely agree on anything, say the bridges cost the Spanish economy hundreds of millions of euros in lost production, as they result in idle plants and half-empty offices,” the story says.

Needless to say, the plan is not going over well among workers. Restrepo, a hotel marketer, calls her bridges an “escape valve” between the long breaks in August to the winter holidays. She refers to the idea as “just horrible.”

Seems the whole country is caught up in a debate now over what an appropriate balance between work and play should be in a country that relies heavily on tourism and where one government agency even “subsidizes vacations for hundreds of thousands of elderly people during the winter low season to help keep tourism workers employed,” according to the story.

But wait. Broken down, we’re talking about moving three of Spain’s 14 public holidays to Mondays. And no one’s planning to touch Spain’s guaranteed minimum of 22 additional vacation days. Is this really so “horrible”? Or is it, as one Alberto Nadal, who works on labor issues for a big business association in Spain, tells the WSJ, “a symbol of a change in mentality, the idea that we have to change the way we do things to belong to the euro zone”? Hmmm.

And are we really just talking about the euro zone or are we talking about an entire, stingy global economy?