My friend and his wife are going away for a week in July to San Francisco and Napa to get a nice romantic break while their kids are at sleep-away camp. They have also taken a week in February during school break for a family trip to Club Med and a few days in April to go to Washington, D.C. I asked him how his wife can take so much time off (she works for a big company in New York doing human resources). He told me she gets five weeks a year of paid vacation, so while they’re away she continues to get paid, and her company encourages people to take their time off.
Why would companies not only offer paid time off, but actually want people to take that time? My initial reaction was that it would cost the company productivity, revenue, and they’d need additional headcount since people get 10 percent of the year off (five weeks out of 52). After talking to him about it — he used to be in corporate America as well — I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of time off to everyone involved, and I’m trying to be more proactive in taking time for myself and rewarding my employees with it as well.
According to a study by the U.S. Travel Association, compiled by Oxford Economics, the benefits to taking time off include “higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention, and significant health benefits.” Think about it and it makes sense: taking some time off allows people to recharge their batteries and get a much-needed break from the everyday grind.
This goes for both employees and managers/owners. In fact, I am taking a couple of days off this week to go to Atlantic City with another integrator friend to just hang out and spend some guy time. That means no work Wednesday or Thursday. I can’t tell you how psyched I am for just a little bit of time off — I’ve been looking forward to these two days for weeks and have been working extra hard to get all of my projects in position for me to be away.
I do my best to also give my employees some time off as well. I often reward our team with paid days off for exceptional work, or finishing a project early, on budget, and accurately. For example, if we booked a week for a prewire and the prewire team is done in four days with everything completely finalized — and I or my project manager have done a walk-through and approve it — I will usually give the team the fifth day off if there isn’t anything else urgent awaiting them, and I will pay them for it. Or if we wrap up at 2 p.m. on a client site, I’ll send everyone home early so they can spend time with their families or just unwind, instead of starting something new or having them go back to the office.
Giving paid time off as a reward is really a win-win for everyone involved: the employees get refreshed, it motivates them to do great work, and, unlike bonuses, it doesn’t add to payroll.
I have even been known to give top performers several days of paid time off on an ad-hoc basis to reward them for great work, so they can go away with friends or family for long weekends or holidays. They are psyched to be paid for the time and I’m OK with doing it, especially if we can schedule around it and not really lose any work or productivity out of it. It really isn’t something expected, and they know it is a reward for top performance and not an every-year expectation, unlike bonuses or raises, which often become the “norm.” And with paid time off, there is less of a material hit to the bottom line than bonuses or free gear.
Now, I’m not saying that smaller business like ours should provide a formal paid-time-off policy — especially with hourly workers — but encouraging your team to take a day here or there to recharge when you see they are dragging (and maybe when business is slow anyways) can only help. It is a fairly low-cost way to build morale and loyalty, and let your team know that you appreciate them and are looking out for them.