Boost Productivity Using This Benefit

Half of all workers who receive paid vacation time in some of the nation’s largest cities would be willing to sacrifice another workplace benefit in exchange for more paid time off, according to a new survey.

Here’s what they’re willing to trade off:
• More than one-tenth of all employees who receive vacation time from their employer would prefer more time off over a higher salary or a promotion.
• One-sixth of employees with paid time off would forgo a compensation bonus in exchange for additional vacation days.
• Ten percent of respondents would give up their company’s 401(k) match in return for more vacation time.
• A full quarter of employees would give up the once highly coveted private office.

However, only a fraction (5 percent) of workers who receive any vacation time are willing to take a pay cut for more time away from work. Ironically, despite their hankering for more personal time, a majority of employees who receive paid time off (57 percent) do not use all the vacation time they receive.

The survey was released by Inspirato, a private destination club, and conducted online by Harris Interactive among 2,534 adults in major cities across the U.S.

Boost to Employee Productivity
While no federal employment or labor laws require employers to provide employees vacation time, time away from the office is widely recognized as critical to long-term workplace productivity and employee satisfaction.

A 2010 Expedia survey reported by ABC News found that 45 percent of Americans agreed that “they come back to work feeling rested, rejuvenated and reconnected to their personal life” after vacation, and 35 percent said “they return from vacation feeling better about their job and feeling more productive.” Yet Americans in particular struggle to disconnect from the office and claim their much-needed breaks.

Multiple hours-worked studies conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have found Americans work longer hours than practically any advanced country except South Korea and Japan.

To ensure employees are taking the personal time they need to stay satisfied and invigorated in their careers — and to help recruit the best talent — many employers are adopting vacation policies once unheard of, including providing unlimited vacation time.

As Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported, Best Buy, Netflix and Zynga are among a growing list of companies scrapping traditional vacation policies in favor of unlimited PTO. Software startup Evernote, which did away with vacation limits in 2011, took things one step further. When Evernote managers began noticing employees were taking less vacation after instituting their flexible vacation policy, Evernote began writing $1,000 checks for anyone taking a week-long trip. “Our employees are better after they have traveled,” said Chief Executive Phil Libin. “They are more productive; they are more useful to the company.”

Creative Alternative Vacation Policies
Unfortunately, unlimited vacation plans aren’t realistic for every company. But there are other creative policies worth considering to ensure that employees — and the organization — can reap the benefits of vacations:

Sabbaticals. Only 4 percent of companies offer paid sabbaticals, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s “2011 Employee Benefits” research report. However, more than 20 percent of companies on Fortune’s list of the “Top 100 Best Companies to Work For” do so, including Intel, General Mills and Microsoft. HR professionals also tout the advantages of employee sabbaticals to companies, citing their effectiveness as an employee recruiting and retention tool.

Vacation homes for employee use. The time and stress involved in planning a vacation can be a major deterrent for many employees already overburdened with everyday work and family responsibilities. Companies looking to encourage their most-valued employees to take vacation can do so by providing vacation homes for use by employees.

Compressed work weeks. Not every vacation comes in the form of a seven-day trip to an exotic locale. Three-day weekends can help employees recharge, reconnect with their family and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Zappos, Cisco and American Express are among the companies that offer their employees the option of a compressed workweek, or the freedom to work fewer but longer days, such as four 10-hour days.

Vacation day payment plans. While paid vacation days are considerably more popular, many employees who value time away from the office are willing to pay for it. Consider a vacation program that allows an employee to take a vacation and pay for the time via payroll deduction spread out over a one-year period.

Christine Rafanelli is a communications professional and writer based in Denver. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.