Policies that Work: Is Work Martyr Syndrome a Danger to Your Business?

Okay, America. It’s time to admit you have a problem. It can be tough to talk about, but I want you to say it aloud with me:

I don’t take the vacation I’ve earned.

I could tell you that these vacation days are part of your compensation package. I could tell you that Americans forfeit $61.4 billion in earned benefits each year by passing on days off. I could tell you that you work as a de facto volunteer for your employer 222 million days each year, because you can’t roll over, bank, or be paid out for that time. But that might not be enough for some of you to rethink your vacation-deprived habits (you can almost hear the “tsk tsk” in my voice, can’t you?).

Well, work martyrs, there are a handful of companies that will help those who don’t help themselves. Why? Because they see work martyr syndrome as a danger to their business.

Software provider FullContact and financial advisory company Motley Fool have turned to incentive programs to make sure they are getting the most out of their employees—greater productivity, creativity, and overall performance—when they take vacation, but also so they can identify potential vulnerabilities in their ability to do business.

Bart Lorang, CEO of FullContact, has a photo hanging in his office as a reminder of the importance of vacationing with purpose. The photo (seen here, as hilariously captioned by Lorang) shows Lorang and his fiancé riding camels with the Egyptian pyramids in the background—but instead of taking in one of the wonders of the world, Lorang is checking email on his phone. After seeing this photo, he resolved he would not miss out again, nor would his employees.

Lorang introduced “paid paid vacation.” The policy provides $7,500 to workers to take their time off and requires them to disconnect. Lorang believes that while disconnecting is difficult for many employees, it helps correct what he calls a “misguided hero syndrome.” “That’s not heroic,” Lorang says of an employee’s feeling that no one else can do his or her job. “That’s a single point of failure. It’s not good for the employee or the company.”

Motley Fool agrees with Lorang and has put forward what it calls the “Fool’s Errand,” where once a month an employee is selected at random to take two weeks off from work within the next month. It’s not just a great perk, it’s a way to strengthen the business, ensuring that employees are cross-trained and have the opportunity to learn and stretch their capabilities.

“When you suddenly take two weeks off, you need to make sure that other people around you understand what you do so that the company doesn’t come to a screeching halt if you’re gone,” Motley Fool’s Alison Southwick told Fast Company.

The Fool’s Errand is a companion incentive to unlimited vacation, a policy Motley Fool has offered since its founding in 1993. CEO Tom Gardner summarized the thinking of many companies that have embraced unlimited vacation, “A culture built on trust and respect will pay for itself several times over.”

Note: The data and statistics referenced in this post have been updated since we originally published this post. Learn more about the State of American Vacation 2017.

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