One of the benefits that has received growing attention in the last year is unlimited vacation time. It is positioned as the “ultimate” in paid time away from work, and many of the people who have read the news articles about the plans have wondered what it would be like to implement such a plan. I’m here to tell you: avoid the hype. It’s not all it has been touted to be, and like with all decisions, there are unintended consequences to consider.

The Prevalence of Unlimited PTO Plans

The 2015 SHRM Benefits Study, an annual report examining the nitty gritty details of benefit plans, pointed out that between >1% and 2% of employers are offering unlimited paid leave plans. So while we get bombarded by the media talking about these revolutionary companies, in reality less than two out of a hundred organizations are even in the discussion.

What that means for me as a researcher is that there is too small of a sample size to accurately judge the efficacy of these kinds of plans. Who knows if they really work to help employees manage their lives better? We simply need more data on adoption to make that call.

What Companies Know About Offering Unlimited Vacation Time

Often the first thought, especially for HR folks, is something like, “I know who would take advantage of that. Their PTO balance is already in the red…” But the companies putting these systems in place aren’t worried about that. Often times they have generous leave policies already.

But people aren’t taking advantage of the existing benefits.

I wrote last year about a nonprofit organization that was created to help people take more vacation time, because they aren’t even using everything that is available.

In case you weren’t aware, March 31st 2015 is being cast as Vacation Commitment Day, brought to you by the Take Back Your Time nonprofit. The organization is devoted to helping workers across America focus on taking more of the vacation that they have available, because we are notorious for accruing, but not using, our leave.

This sounds like a great idea, but the timing is interesting.

This is an intriguing coincidence because just last week I was reading a new study from Accountemps about the top benefits employees are asking for in 2015. Want to know what topped the list?

More vacation time.

So what gives? We want more vacation time, but we also don’t use all of the time that we accrue.

As if that wasn’t enough, the federal government is now attempting to introduce legislation that will force small companies to offer paid leave to employees.

The Big Picture

With all of these pieces in play, it’s an interesting time to be working in the benefits side of the human resources profession. I would use this reminder as an opportunity to review your company’s offerings in terms of paid leave. More importantly, look into the usage of the benefits.

The first thing we do when benchmarking benefit offerings is to consider what we’re doing relative to the market. However, smart HR leaders also look at the benefits adoption and usage to determine how employees are utilizing the offerings. For instance, if you offer a health reimbursement arrangement but only two employees sign up, it probably wasn’t worth the effort to establish and market the program.

That also applies to vacation time. The reality is while many workers accrue paid time off, there may be circumstances that prevent them from using the leave. For instance, they may have work projects that necessitate their presence or there might even be a cultural norm of foregoing vacation days to demonstrate “dedication” in some organizations.

Analyze the accruals against the usage of the benefit. If you have a substantial amount of accrued time, consider what implications that has for your organization and why your people might be saving that time. Also keep in mind that this could be seasonal: employees may save up time for summer trips or winter breaks. It’s important to dig into the “why” behind the numbers, because it could signify underlying issues or opportunities.

Source: Do we really need more vacation time?

http://www.brandonhall.com/blogs/do-people-really-need-more-vacation-time/

The Other Problem with “Unlimited” Leave

There’s a famous study on choice that helps to illustrate this point. People were given options from a large set of choices, and few made purchases (analysis paralysis). Other people were given options from a small set of choices, and more of them made purchases because it was easier to evaluate the few choices against one another.

It all began with jam. In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. (Source)

What this means for leave is that without some sort of reference, people will often use less of a good. Here’s an example: if I handed you a plate of cookies and told you to take what you wanted, you might take one, two, or three (hey, I’m hungry and like cookies). But if I handed it to you and said, “Take a cookie,” then you would probably get just one. Hopefully you’re starting to see what this means for paid leave.

The Typical Work Environment of Unlimited PTO Adopters

There’s one other thing that people often forget as well about these high-profile companies. If you’re working somewhere like Netflix or LinkedIn, two of the organizations offering this paid leave benefit, you are working many hours. Many, many hours. And the work itself doesn’t lend itself to a three-month vacation at the employee’s whim.

Which is why offering unlimited paid time is a great idea for the employer, and not the other way around..

What competitive, driven, career-minded employee is going to take advantage of this? Do you mean to tell me that the guy who just became a father is going to tell the rest of the team working on that big project that he’s going to take the next 11 months off to “stay at home and spend time with my baby.” Really? Sure, he now has that option. But who’s going to pull that trigger? And who’s going to risk suddenly disappearing from the office for months on end, travelling to Australia or kicking back with a cold one on the beach while the rest of his co-workers are working away on deadline? And what happens a year later when evaluation time comes? Who gets that promotion, that salary increase, that corner office–the guy who’s been working day and night on that product launch or the other guy who’s been taking full advantage of the company’s “paid time off” policy and working on his golf swing. (Source)

So, I encourage you to avoid the hype. Unlimited paid time off is a publicity stunt for these larger organizations, and they have cultures that can force/coerce people to work even though the carrot of unlimited PTO is hanging right out there in front of them. What you should do instead is make sure your work environment is supportive of people that take any vacation that you do offer. Too often I’ve heard snide remarks and rude comments about an employee using vacation time, a benefit the company freely makes available to all employees! That is the battle we should be fighting, not one to request this latest fad in employee leave benefits.

 

Today we’re not talking about HR.

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Helping with the dental work

I’ve been quite of late, because it’s difficult to write from a remote village without electricity. From the end of December to early January, I returned to Guatemala for a mission trip designed to encourage and uplift some of the poorest people on earth (materially speaking). Below you’ll find a report based on my experience. I write this recollection not to “show off,” but to help keep myself focused on the most important things in life, such as faith and family.

I hope that this story gives you some hope yourself and possibly even encourages you to look for an opportunity to love on someone else, whether they are nine thousand miles away or just nine feet away.

I visited Guatemala two years ago on a similar trip and knew that I would one day return. I told my wife that I wouldn’t go back until she was able to experience it herself, and in July 2015 she joined a team visiting San Pedro Las Huertas in Sacatepecquez. It was a wonderful time for her, and it allowed me to make good on my promise to return. For the past few years, both of us have worked on the planning team for our church’s annual auction to support two feeding centers in San Pedro Las Huertas and San Cristobal el Bajo. Each feeds more than a hundred kids a day, which for most of the kids is the only meal they will get all day. Melanie was able to see the feeding centers in operation when she visited, which was probably a humbling feeling to see all of that effort paying off. Unfortunately the feeding centers were closed for the holidays while I was there (apparently Guatemala follows the United States’ lead and pretty much shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s).

There were many facets to trip preparation. It’s not as simple as packing a suitcase and heading for the airport. We were bringing 250+ stockings full of toys, clothing and personal hygiene items to pass out for kids, plus we had to plan for daily bible school lessons and more.

Sunday

I’ll just mention here that I hate being away from my family for any length of time. When I decide to go on a trip, that’s usually the first hang up I have. But I had committed to this experience, so…

Sunday afternoon one of my team members and I took all of the stockings and luggage to Atlanta to save some time and simplify logistics for the team. One extra night away, but it saved us from having to be up at 2:30am to get on the road in time for the flight.

Monday

Monday morning we met the rest of the team at the airport and hopped on the plane. Guatemala City, here we come! Coming back was very much a reunion-like experience for me. I had many friends in San Pedro las Huertas from my previous visit, and it was a great chance for me to practice my rusty Spanish yet again. On the way to the mission house from the airport, I rode in the only truck without an interpreter and was able to have a good conversation with our driver, which was fun.

That night we ate dinner and repacked the vehicles with plans to leave first thing in the morning.

Tuesday

The team was very excited about the trip, despite being on the road for nine hours. We did last minute checks and hit the road. At Chimaltenango we picked up our third driver, Pastor Luis. This man has been visiting the people of La Perla for a year at monthly intervals, and he was our local connection to the community there.

Again, I ended up riding in his vehicle with the rest of the gringos that didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. You never realize how much you talk on a nine hour road trip until you’re riding with a driver that doesn’t speak English.

The trip, though long, was fairly uneventful. We stopped for lunch at one of the only Gringo-safe places, Pollo Campero, in Santa Cruz (Quiche) and then continued on our way. We arrived late in the afternoon just before dark. There was just time for a quick dinner before we had church service. After that we all hit the hay, tired from the long day’s events.

Wednesday

House visits with Pastor Julio

House visits with Pastor Julio

The plan for the day included house visits for church members and family in the morning and vacation bible school for the kids in the afternoon.

I had the amazing opportunity to go for a run at first light, seeing the sleepy little village coming to life one cooking fire at a time. I’ll admit that I got some funny looks from the locals, but everyone was friendly and it is a memory I’ll treasure.

During our house visits, we had our first run in with the biting flies of La Perla. These small, gnat-looking bugs drink blood like a mosquito, but they don’t alert you to their presence since they are very small. But lunchtime some of the team had more than a dozen bites on their faces and arms. (I’d like to send a personal thank you to Off! Deep Woods for their support of my trip). :-)

One of the families we visited had recently lost someone, and that was definitely a pull at the heartstrings. However, the second visit was one I want to cover in more detail. We checked in on a Mayan family living on the side of a hill. They were quite poor, even by local standards. They had a dirt floor and a fire going in the middle of the room for cooking and heat. As soon as we walked in, the lady’s daughter ran to a neighbor’s house to bring chairs so that we could sit. As soon as we all were seated, she went and retrieved all of her food and began passing it out to us, a set of complete strangers. This amazed me, and we weren’t able to refuse it, because it would have been an insult to her and her family.

At bible school we did a lesson on Daniel and the lion’s den and did a little lion craft with the kids. Some of them were very shy, because they had never colored anything before. Then we played games–one of the team brought a massive bubble wand and made bubbles 2-3 feet long for the kids, and they were thrilled.

Thursday

The plan for the day included house visits for church members and family in the morning and vacation bible school for the kids in the afternoon.

The house visits on Thursday really got me. We hiked up the trail on the side of a mountain to get to the homes. At one home we met a teenage girl with no legs. Every night her little sister carries a flashlight and helps her get down to church, more than half a mile away. This girl crawls there every night. I was completely blown away by her faith and dedication.

We started to get a bit tired down from the kids being around us at every moment of the day, plus not getting much sleep at night. The children were climbing in the windows of our rooms, trying to see the gifts that we had brought for them. :-)

Friday

The plan for the day included a medical clinic in the morning and vacation bible school plus stocking distribution in the afternoon.

Discussing care of a very sick baby with his mother

Discussing care of a very sick baby with his mother

The local church had handed out fifty numbers for patients for the clinic, but through various conversations another twenty five people had been invited to come for treatment. We had a pretty good setup going. One team working blood pressure (note: even seventy year olds had great blood pressure there thanks to walking everywhere on mountain trails!), two dispensing medicine, one person diagnosing patients, some praying with the patients, and others working however they could. Because I have some understanding of Spanish I was writing instructions on the medicine as we prescribed it to patients.

Nearly everyone we saw had worms or parasites simply because their water is full of bacteria and germs, they don’t understand how to cook food properly, etc. I believe the long term answer to this is education, but as of today we wiped out a considerable number of parasites with the medication we distributed.

Some of the most heart-breaking stories, from the man that hadn’t eaten in fifteen days to the baby that wasn’t getting enough nutrition and might not survive, happened during this clinic. On one hand it was great to help ease the suffering of these people, but on the other it reminds me just how much pain there is in the world.

There were two kids that needed teeth pulled, and I was able to help a bit for the second one. The girl’s tooth had rotted, and grabbing it made it crumble to pieces. After several unsuccessful attempts we decided to bring her with us on the return trip to the first large city, Navaj, to see a real dentist and get the tooth pulled for good.

Due to the number of people at the clinic, we just had time for a quick grab and go lunch before bible school started. We did our lesson, took the kids out to play, and then brought everyone back into the church and locked the doors. We knew that this would be a problem if kids were wandering by and saw the gifts coming out, and we didn’t have enough to offer everyone in the entire village. We had brought approximately 250 stockings, and Pastor Luis brought about 50 more small gifts as well.

Once the kids were in the church, we told them they would get a single gift and then would be sent out the door. It was my job to guard the door and prevent anyone else from entering, because the priority was to serve the kids who had attended bible school. That was heart-wrenching, because within five minutes of these kids streaming out of the church with gifts, there were more than fifty people outside trying to get in and secure a gift for themselves or for their children. In the end we let a few more in and handed out everything we had, and we had to be comfortable with that. Just like with the medical clinic, you can’t help everyone, and that is just part of life.

The church was packed every night. Standing room only in the back.

The church was packed every night. Standing room only in the back.

That night we treated the locals. During church service every night they ran a generator to power the lights and audio equipment. We brought a projector and DVD player and the movie War Room. Most of the people there had never seen a movie before, and I knew it would be an experience. The entire church was packed out, standing room only, and the back walls were opened up so people could stand outside and still see. In the two hour movie, people sat on hard wooden benches and drank in the experience. The movie has a powerful message, and it was evident in the tears that shone when the lights came up at the end. I don’t think they will soon forget it.

Saturday

Saturday morning was bittersweet. We were excited to go back to the mission house in San Pedro and reunite with our team, but we were also very sad to leave the wonderful people of La Perla. We brought the little girl and her mom with us to go the dentist in Navaj, and that proved to be a painful experience. The girl’s mother did not travel often, so she got motion sickness and would not take any medication offered by the team. She ended up throwing up four times in the back seat of the truck, turning the three hour drive into a five hour drive. Once we got the girl in to see a dentist and off on the bus back home, we continued our journey. Ultimately with traffic and the other issues, we ended up taking thirteen hours to get back to the mission house.

Everyone was very tired from the road trip, but the nearby volcano was sending up lava on and off all night, and most of the team stayed up to see the eruptions.

Sunday

Sunday morning we had church in San Pedro. I rode with Danny, the local missionary, to pick up kids and families for church. It was great to see some of the same kids I remembered from before.

After church, one of the kids was left behind, so a friend and I decided to walk him home. After we dropped him off, I realized we were at the same location where we had built a house on our previous visit. I remembered hearing Danny say that the mother/wife had just died a few weeks prior of appendicitis at the age of 38. Despite me only having a grasp of the basics of Spanish and the family not speaking any English, we stopped by to offer our condolences. After all, on the previous trip we had played with their kids and spent several days building their home from the ground up, so we felt like we knew them as well as anyone else.

Sunday afternoon we began packing our gear for the trip home. It had been a long week, and we had accomplished much in the relatively short time we were in Guatemala. Monday morning we went to the airport and flew back to Atlanta.

Looking back now, it seems like it was all too short of a trip. I’m extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to visit with and love on these amazing people. My team was phenomenal. And my wife is a saint for keeping up with our kids while I was out of town. All that said, it was the wonderful experience that I hoped and prayed for.

When it comes to the world of human resources, it feels like the rules are always changing. This is for good reason, as the trends in human resources tend to echo the trends of the business world as a whole. As the business world shifts, grows and changes, the world of HR needs to adapt. Otherwise, it might find itself being left in the dust, which can cause both the company and its employees to suffer.

One of the biggest technological innovations that HR professionals need to bring into their professional efforts is social media. Powerful businesspeople, such as Fahad AlRajaan, have begun using social media to increase the awareness of their brand and expand the reach of their influence. If HR professionals want to grow their own careers, it’s essential that they do the same. Here are some reasons why social media is crucial for HR professionals. Continue reading

Back in college I wrote a ton of papers for various classes. Without fail, my writing process would look like this.

  • Read some of the research available and form an opinion.
  • Write an essay based on that opinion.
  • Go back and find data to back up my essay’s key points.
  • Get about 95% finished and realize that the paper didn’t turn out like I wanted it to originally.
  • Rewrite the entire thing from scratch (usually with just a day or two left until the deadline)

analysisThis was a painful process, but it usually yielded fairly good results. I think that many of us try to do the same with this big data/analytics concept. We immediately go out and start gathering HR data, hoping to make some incredible discovery that will revolutionize the way we do business. Continue reading

One of the things that I have grown to appreciate over the past few years is marketing. One of the first things I wrote on the topic was actually around what Chief Marketing Officers can teach Chief HR Officers. There is quite a bit of activity that goes on in the marketing department that we should all appreciate. From tailoring your approach to your audience to relentlessly testing your campaigns, there are some great insights in how they operate. Today we’re going to specifically talk about split testing.

The easiest way to explain split testing is this:

split testingLet’s say I walk up to you and hold out a piece of cake wordlessly. When the next person comes by, I hold out the same type of cake in the same way, but I smile and say, “Hello!” cheerfully.

That’s a split test, or A/B test. The point is to make every element of the scenario the same except for a single item that you’re explicitly testing—in this case, the greeting. Over the course of multiple tests (dozens or more, not just two or three apiece) you learn how that item affects the outcome of the experiment. Then you do it again but with another element being the item tested. Continue reading

A few weeks ago, one of my good friends was tapping away at his phone, and I asked him what he was up to. He told me that he was playing this “Clash of Clans” game online.

During my college days, I played games regularly. I enjoyed it, and it was a great way to pass the time. Now that I have kids I don’t have much time for games anymore, so I started to dismiss it. Then he said something that struck me. He was playing on a team with some of his peers from work.

After digging deeper into the story, I knew I wanted to share about it. Not just because I still have a fondness for games, but because this has some interesting impacts on the workplace as well.

Growing Up

One of my best memories growing up is playing games with my family: board games, word games, and all kinds of others. One of my absolute favorites is still Scattergories, in case you were curious. And when I think about those games I don’t think about which ones I won or lost. I think about the way I felt playing together and feeling like I was part of something special. Continue reading

One of the most common terms around recruiting these days is candidate experience. If you’re late to the game, it’s basically a look at how candidates are treated as they enter your recruiting funnel all the way to getting an offer, if they move that far. It’s comparable to the customer experience: how they are treated, how they feel about the organization, etc. I’ve long held that candidate experience is seen as unimportant not because it doesn’t matter, but because companies just don’t know how to make it stick.

Think about it. If I told you starting today that you had to treat every candidate with the same reverence you offered your customers, you would have a hard time making it work among your other job duties. In addition, you’d probably be unsure just how to make that a reality. I recently wrote about how to revolutionize candidate experience (here). The gist:

  1. Measure it continuously
  2. Make it automatic
  3. Make it part of recruiting performance
  4. Make it more important than something else
  5. Make it a business priority, not an HR one

Those are good, helpful pieces of information, but I’ll do you one better. My friend Jane, the HR leader for a startup technology company in Boston, left me a comment that was worth sharing. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because she has authored a few previous guest posts here (How to Select a Third Party RecruiterThe Struggle Between a Caring Work Environment and Talent Density. and Applying Marketing Principles to HR). Here’s Jane’s take on practical ways to impact candidate experience:

It didn’t seem to push through, but figured I’d share on your candidate experience article:

Ben, great article. My experience is that the candidate (and employee) experience becomes acutely important when in a highly-competitive market where you want to hire people better than the job criteria … but so does everyone else.

I’ll give you an example – in one of my positions, we posted on craigslist, got a bunch of applicants, handled them the average HR way, and hired people who met our criteria – most of whom were fine. In retrospect, many (but not all – I worked with some really great people) were looking for a less-bad job than their last.

In another position, we wanted the cream of the crop (without being able to pay Google money). To win those candidates, it became much more important to give them access to our CEO, mission and strategy. To woo them by meeting members of the team. And to actively court them. Unless we were in love with a candidate, we weren’t extending an offer. And if we extended that offer, we really wanted a yes.

Ultimately, you need buy in from the top-down because hiring (and the way candidates are treated) needs to become more important than everything else on people’s plates. The pay-off? Spectacular talent. A competitive advantage in the market. Awesome referrals. And people who leave for greener pastures, but want to return.

What I like in particular about their approach is the clear delineation between “what we did” and “what we do now” with regard to how candidates are treated. This is the same approach I took when I was leading the HR function at Pinnacle Solutions. Things like access to the CEO, the opportunity to bring a spouse/SO to the office to meet people before accepting an offer, or even just a private meeting with peers to ask questions they didn’t feel comfortable asking me or the hiring manager are all incredibly powerful tools in these circumstances.

How does your organization make the overall experience for candidates a priority? Has it worked for you?