Enlightened working: ‘You Days’ and unlimited paid leave
Job search site Indeed has devised smart ways to help its employees in time of stress
Full detachment from work, physical and psychological, is hard to achieve and can cause fatigue and potential burnout.
The online jobs search company Indeed has a global workforce of 10,000 people. About 1,000 of them are based in Ireland and work across all areas of the business from marketing and finance to strategy and operations.
When the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak became apparent, Indeed was quick to send employees home to work. Since then it has put a big effort into keeping its workforce upbeat, with everything from online cooking, art and yoga classes to a dedicated social news channel for dog lovers.
Recently added to its list of Covid-driven initiatives are “You Days”. This is a company-wide policy that gives all employees a day off at the same time and there will be a series of You Days between now and the end of the year. You Days are in addition to existing leave.
The main reason the company decided to implement You Days was because there had been a marked decline in people taking time off since the Covid restrictions kicked in.
“It was a natural reaction because suddenly they were home all the time and didn’t feel they should be taking time out,” says company senior vice-president Paul Wolfe, head of global human resources. “So, we decided to break the pattern and give everyone a day off in May and see how it went. People loved it.
“Because we were all off together, it was really quiet with no work emails for example.
“I then suggested we make a feature out of it – which turned out to be a bit of logistical challenge as we had 16 different national calendars to manage and wanted to space out the breaks. The feedback from our employee population has been very positive. We have certain jobs in the company that may prevent some people taking the designated day but they will get the time off later.”
You Days are not Indeed’s only form of novel leave. The company also has a policy of unlimited paid time off which people can take over and above their annual holiday entitlement. Employees can take the time as long as it does not disrupt the business or interfere with their ability to complete their work.
The idea is to reward the productive use of work hours and avoid arbitrarily capping the amount of time someone can take off in a year.
That said, people can’t just walk off the job. There are some rules and regulations around paid time off. For example, employees must agree the time off with their manager and needs and priorities of their team have to come first.
Giving people unlimited time off may sound like Utopia to employees but one can easily imagine raised eyebrows among employers who can only see the potential for abuse. However, Indeed has been operating paid time off for over four years now and abuse has never been an issue Wolfe says.
“The philosophical principle I adopted early on in my HR career was to treat people like adults and, more often than not, they will act accordingly,” he says. “There will always be a small percentage who try to step over the line but you deal with those situations on an exceptions basis rather than putting rules in place for everybody.
“The aim of paid time off is to get people to take more time off and, if they’re performing well and we can accommodate it, we encourage them to take the time before they hit the wall of really needing a break. We know people are happier, more productive and more engaged when they come back and we’ve still been able to manage our business effectively and meet our key performance indicators with paid time off in place.
Delivery vs toil
“Because of technology, the line that used to exist between work and life is really blurred or non-existent so you need to get to the point where you are managing someone’s performance by what they deliver. It’s not about the number of hours in the day they work,” Wolfe adds. “Also, right now we’re not in a normal working-from-home situation. We are in the midst of a pandemic and trying to work at the same time. This is not a normal WFH experience.”
Asked about the cost of implementing paid time off and You Days, Wolfe says, “There is no incremental cost because the work is still getting done and, when we hire someone, we have already budgeted their salary for the year including time off.”
The difficulty of establishing a boundary between work and everyday life is one of the big negatives emerging from the lockdown. Finian Buckley, professor of work and organisational psychology at DCU Business School, says recent research from Northeastern University in Boston clearly shows there are problems around switching off when working from home full time.
It also shows a shift in perceptions. In the workplace, people accept interruptions by colleagues as normal process whereas at home interruptions by family members were seen as intrusions.
“Many home workers find it more difficult to disengage and separate work from family roles because work becomes embedded and intrudes in the home-family domain,” Buckley says.
“Full detachment from work, physical and psychological, is more difficult to achieve and has the negative effect of fatigue and potential burnout. Formalising recovery breaks and creating clear boundaries are becoming an essential management skill for home-workers to master.”