10 things your competitors can teach you about time off

There are plenty of new and hip ideas about time off coming out of Silicon Valley and beyond – but can they really help cuts costs and reduce bureaucracy?

Time off: palm tree

Time-off requests can be a real headache and managing countless requests for as many different reasons can seem like a herculean task.

If you feel like your policies and procedures could use a revamp, here’s a breakdown of 10 time-off policies on the current HR circuit. Read on and discover how they could benefit your organisation.

1. Let them bank it

An evolved form of paid time off (PTO), PTO banks add flexibility without impinging on PTO’s simplicity.

PTO allocates employees a set number of days or hours off per year, which can be used however the individual sees fit: sickness, personal days, holiday etc. This system can prove unfair to those needing many days off for situations out of their control; those with long-term health issues or carers, for example.

By turning PTO into a ‘bank’, employees can gain interest on days off, the longer they’re with the company, and save up unused days off, which would usually expire, for the following year. Altogether it gives a little more control back to the employees.

2. Shut-up shop

For organisations that can, something as simple as closing for the Christmas period could speak volumes to staff.

If it doesn’t cost you much financially, the sign of respect this shows for your workforce’s family life could pay dividends in morale. Many employees will try to take time off during this period anyway so it’ll save you the time and cost of finding temporary staff or wrangling with the schedule as well. 

3. Trust your employees

Companies like Netflix have taken a bold step, introducing what they call FTO (free time off); essentially making employees responsible for how many days off they take.

What’s key here is that your employees feel trusted to know what’s good for the business. By hiring right, Netflix trust their employees not to abuse the policy. For employees, FTO is good for avoiding stress and establishing a healthier work-life balance.

If it’s a new concept for employees, you might want to consider a trail period with a fair-usage policy.

4. Meet them half way

Sometimes staff need days off because they can’t work, but other times employees just need some time away from the office.

In these situations working from home is a good alternative, which is increasing in popularity.

Time out of the office can reduce the need for personal days or flexi-time, and can also avoid the burnout that leads to sick days, duvet days and long holidays.

5. Embrace the ‘seven year itch’

In 2009 designer Stephan Sagmeister gave a compelling TED talk on the sabbatical. He closes his studio every seven years to pursue personal projects.

Creativity and quality of work improve because of sabbaticals, but Sagmeister argues that ihey could also extend the length of time employees can work by offsetting retirement.

As with FTO, offering sabbaticals may be as much about the message it sends as anything else. It shows confidence that teams can perform with senior staff absent and proves you care about investing in employees’ personal and professional development.

A year is a long time, but even a month could be enough to refresh employees; and to ensure to the individual and the business benefit from the experience you can request a plan or proposal along with their sabbatical application.

6. Use ratios

Similar to the sabbatical concept, companies such as Google have adopted the 80:20 principal, where employees spend eighty per cent of their time on work and the other twenty pursuing a personal work-related project.

Google offered this to engineers, which is how services like Gmail came about, so the benefits for the business are clear.

For employees, while this isn’t strictly time off, having time set-aside for their own growth can help them avoid burnout and job dissatisfaction, preventing the need for time-off in the future.

7. Let employees choose

While it can be simpler to have one policy for all, HR is all about people, and different people have different needs.

Allow employees to buy and sell days off and put some of the process back into the employee’s hands.

The real benefit of this system is that it shows the company’s respect for an individual’s right to decide their own priorities: time off or money, the choice is theirs.

8. Be flexible

You could take the civil service’s lead and operate on flexi-time, which gives employees control over their workload and day-today schedules. Everyone has to work a set amount of hours, but when they work them is up to them.

Flexi-time encourages employees to plan their time well and work accordingly if they wish to take a day off. It also speaks to employee’s most sought-after quality in employers: flexibility.

9. Incentivise with time off

Like flexi-time, if demand for holidays is high, but reserves are low, you can use extra days off as an incentive.

Days off are an excellent way to reward staff for a job well done and can be customised to suit your style of business.

Reward teams for meeting big deadlines or certain goalsby giving them Friday off or reward those who go above and beyond, or who take the most graveyard shifts: whatever is important to your organisation.

10. Let them stay in bed

Duvet days are becoming pretty commonplace in the UK, and while some think they encourage people to pull a sickie, many have seen a decrease in sick days because of them.

As with other policies, this shows employees a kind of respect; it’s up to them what warrants a day off.

Ultimately good policy will come from deciding what is best for your business and employees. All these ideas are great when correctly executed, but you need to tailor your policy towards your business needs. And make sure you put your people before popular policy.

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