Between our contingency division and retained recruitment projects, Right Recruiting filled over 85 positions in 2017. That means I had over 85 conversations with companies and candidates about vacation policies.
From what I’ve seen and read, I think employers are missing a prime opportunity to improve professional level employee performance and happiness.
There is something that employers are missing because they are too close to the issue or are looking at it solely through an accountant’s eyes.
One of the many components to any compensation package is vacation time. The irony is, that while vacation time is often symbolically important to employees as salary, it is also the cheapest thing that employers can provide.
While health and other benefits can be complicated to compare from one company to another, salary and vacation are easily understood numbers.
It is simple for a potential employee to compare the vacation policies of their current versus new employer. This becomes an issue in recruitment because most recruits will have more vacation time with their current employer than what a new employer is willing to provide.
Benefits don’t increase with seniority but salary and vacation increase over time. I would say about half the people we recruit take cuts in vacation time when accepting a new job.
Those cuts are often painful, but some people will take them, grudgingly, for a new opportunity. Although, some will not be as compliant. A fresh employer perspective is required.
Here are some important points to consider as an employer:
1. Surveys tell us that most professional employees do not use all of their vacation time every year. It is safe to assume that employees do that by choice out of commitment to their jobs and peers.
2. Even when on vacation, most employees make themselves accessible for emergencies or general questions. Employees typically respond via email, if not via phone.
3. Most employees work hard to clean up projects or assignments before leaving for vacation because they want to avoid problems for peers or a backlog for themselves when they return.
If all of the above points are true, does it really make sense for employers to be stingy about vacation time and be stubborn about negotiating?
Based on the three points above, it’s logical to conclude that a fight over vacation is also a fight over a part of compensation that the person will probably not fully use anyway!
It is the cheapest thing for an employer to give away. What’s the big deal?
Here is what we hear from employers to defend their current policies:
1. We’ve always done it this way. What do we say to people we’ve hired in the past?
2. How about the hourly part of our workforce? They use all of the vacation we give them. This analysis would not apply to them. What do we tell them when they see professional employees getting more vacation then they get?
3. What about the professional employees who use all of their vacation, are not accessible when they are away and who do not clean up their projects when they go? They would be a drag.
These are good points. Here are my comments:
1. There are a lot of things that you’ve done in the past that you have changed. Benefits change, working environments change. Furthermore, like salary, vacation time is no one else’s business.
If someone who got hired in 2005 is complaining about the vacation of someone who was hired in 2018, that person has too much time on their hands.
2. Your hourly work force is not working 12 hours a day on projects without overtime and is not getting phone calls at home at 8PM at night about issues. Salary and hourly get paid differently and vacations are a part of compensation.
To tie your professional vacation policy to hourly staff vacations is, frankly, a disincentive to be a professional.
3. Most companies spend a lot of money on consultants to help them decide who to promote and who not to promote. What could be a better indicator of effort and commitment than the ability to remain part of the team while away?
The drag from an employee who is fully absent while on vacation is a small price to pay to reveal which team member is truly committed to professional excellence. Think of it as rewarding someone who performs beyond the norm. Rewarding one person is not punishing another.
I would propose a new way of looking at vacation time. I think employers need to look at it like salary. When employers say, “I want to hire someone for this job with at least 10 years of experience,” they usually do a salary survey and decide on an appropriate compensation level for someone at a 10+-year level of experience in that job.
Well, why not do a survey of what employers provide for vacation time for people with 10+ years of experience and make that a part of the compensation like salary?
A junior job would have a lower salary and less vacation, while a senior job would have a higher salary and more vacation. A person makes more money as they get more experience, additionally, that person usually gets more vacation as well.
If you are an employer reading this, please remember that I am suggesting altering the one part of the compensation package that will be cheapest for you to change.
People take all of their salary, but they often don’t use all of their vacation time. That is an easy trade-off if you can avoid getting into any short term or legacy traps about how you always used to do things in the past.
I hope this has given you a new perspective on how to approach people to get the most out of recruitment in 2018 and beyond.