How To Build The Best Vacation Policy: Share, Listen, Evolve

It’s one thing for managers to encourage employees to take and enjoy their vacation.

But what do you do when your business is the business of helping others take and enjoy vacation?

“We have to live the brand of our people,” explains Rafat Ali, the CEO and founder of Skift, the world’s largest business intelligence and marketing platform in travel. Skift offers competitive benefits like unlimited vacation, potential travel allowances, and an active discouragement of weekend and nighttime working to recruit and retain talent.

“In a very competitive market, we are trying to attract talent. Our overall work-life balance fits into it — we are vocal about our work hours,” Ali explains. “We can attract and retain people with a lifestyle: come to Skift and reset your life. That’s what people are beginning to realize — better quality of life has a tangible monetary value in their head.”

One of the biggest needs for employers is making sure that they are helping their employees understand that value. Across the country, a lack of workplace communication is a major issue. According to Project: Time Off research, about two-thirds of American workers say that they hear nothing, mixed messages, or discouraging messages about taking time off.

Ali believes that fostering an open, positive relationship with his employees is far more important than trying to create a perfect policy from scratch. By absorbing the needs of his employees, Ali can better communicate his expectations — namely, the concept that vacation time is personal time. That means discouraging, as Ali puts it, workers that are “slaves to the digital machines.”

Approximately one-third of American employees say they put “a lot” or “some” pressure on themselves to check in with work when they are on vacation. Ali explains that he recognizes the value of connectivity, but he also reminds his staff that time off isn’t time for catching up on their inbox. “When people are on vacation, nobody should be emailing them. We repeat that when people are on any kind of vacation, please don’t email them,” explains Ali.

While it’s vital for growing companies like Skift to communicate with employees to find out what’s working, putting that input to use is just as important. In Ali’s case, that means reviewing things like parental leave — and even tinkering with different approaches to unlimited vacation — to make sure that his policy is truly working for his people. “Now that we’re growing bigger, we are looking at variations for our unlimited vacation policy, including mandatory minimums. Because when you have unlimited, employees don’t have sense of what they can take and err on the side of taking less,” Ali said.

The bottom line? Great vacation policy is about human interaction based on trust.

“Essentially, we treat people as adults,” said Ali. “As long as you do your work, have the bases covered when you’re not here, we’re fine with it.”


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