According to a new survey by MetLife, the most coveted employee benefit is free time. Unlimited paid vacation is the most desired benefit, with 72 percent of workers surveyed saying they’d want it over things like rewards for healthy living, paid sabbaticals, or on-site services like childcare. This statistic is fascinating in light of the fact that in organizations with a set number of paid vacation days, half of Americans don’t use them all! So if people are not using their vacation days, why do they want more of them?
Perception. People think the idea of unlimited paid vacation days is cool, but in reality, an employee is only going to take a lot of time off if it’s culturally acceptable. Meaning, if one’s supervisor takes a lot of time off, they probably will too.
The issue? Most supervisors don’t take a lot of time off. The higher up you move in an organization, the more responsibilities you have and the less time you have for play. It’s unfortunate, but true. When I became a Vice President I was given six weeks of paid vacation and I was very excited as I love to travel. However, I didn’t even come close to using all of my paid vacation days because I had so much on my plate that I couldn’t afford to not go to work.
So although employees want unlimited paid vacation, they are not taking reality into account: if you take large amounts of time off from work and your boss does not, you will probably be skating on thin ice for not adhering to cultural norms (how we do things here). In addition, if you choose to spend a month sunning in San Tropez and other weeks off on top of that, there’s a good chance you will not achieve your performance objectives let alone exceed them.
WHAT CAN I DO?
The most coveted employee benefit is free time. As a leader of people, you can serve as a role model by taking off a healthy amount of time. This will signal to your employees that they can take off a healthy amount of time too. If you are an individual contributor, speak with your supervisor about what he/she thinks is a reasonable number of paid vacation days and then take them regardless of whether or not your supervisor takes them. If you have a conversation about this topic in advance, you should avoid being viewed as not adhering to cultural norms. Time off is a necessity to reframe and re-energize. Use it, folks!