At Authentic Jobs, a job search website, employees aren’t just given vacation days. They’re now required to take a certain number each year.
When founder Cameron Moll first started the company, he decided to institute an unlimited vacation policy much like the one in place at larger companies like Virgin Atlantic and Netflix. “Running Authentic Jobs, I see a lot of perks come through,” Moll told ThinkProgress. “One that crops up is often vacation.” Moll, resistant to typical corporate culture, was looking to do things differently. An attractive vacation policy can draw talent. “It does make for a good sell with potential candidates,” he said. “It just sounds awesome.”
But he found he didn’t like the policy. “It’s a good idea in theory, but it doesn’t seem to work out that well in practice,” he said. Instead of employees maximizing their time off, no one was taking enough. “We’re still trying to figure out why that is,” he added. One reason seemed to be that employees felt guilty about taking time off and impacting their coworkers. Another was that those who enjoy work might have simply forgotten.
Most Americans don’t take the vacation time allotted to them. The average American worker earns 21 paid days off but uses just 16. Those who get paid vacation days only take about half of them on average while 15 percent take none at all. The use of vacation days is at the lowest level in 40 years. As of the beginning of this month, just over half of Americans say they haven’t taken a single vacation day so far this year.
This trend had negative ramifications at Authentic Jobs. “Our overall health wasn’t as good as it could be,” he said. He also didn’t have a way to track how much time people were taking and when, so he had no way to urge people to take more.
So he decided to try something different. “What if we got rid of this policy we had in place and flipped the traditional vacation policy on its head?” he thought to himself. “Instead of focus on maximum, focus on minimums.” The new policy requires employees to take off 12 holidays and 15 vacation days a year, and then they can take unlimited time above that. “We’re saying you need to take off at least 27 days per year and then beyond that if you need additional time, feel free to do it,” he explained.
“Right now it’s only a concept, only a theory for us, we just implemented it recently,” he said. “I’m really curious to see how it plays out.”
But he does expect some benefits to accrue from the switch. He’ll have better tracking so that he can see if anyone isn’t taking enough days. That’ll allow him to say to employees, “Are you taking off enough time to ensure you’re as productive as you can be?” he said. He plans to check in and see if everyone has hit the quota halfway through the year and urge them to take more time if anyone hasn’t. Multiple studies back up the idea that employees who take vacation time return more productive.
He’s quick to note that Authentic Jobs is a small company with only a couple of full-time employees. But he thinks these different approaches to vacation policy can spread. “I think we’ll see more, different approaches to vacation policies take place in the corporate world, but it’ll take a couple of years,” he said.
The spread would mark a real culture change for the country. Unlike all of our developed peers, the United States doesn’t guarantee that everyone can take paid vacation time. Nearly a quarter don’t get the benefit at all.
Some are lobbying to change that. Hotels.com launched a campaign to push lawmakers to enact a paid vacation requirement for all workers. A bill was introduced in Washington State with just such a requirement. But federal bills that have been introduced haven’t gone anywhere.