For quite a while now, progressive tech companies and startups in places like Silicon Valley have been offering employees unlimited time off as one of their benefits. Google, Netflix, Virgin and LinkedIn have been doing it for years.
According to a Nielsen Consumer Research study, 54 percent of workers don’t take their vacation days because they’re saving them for an emergency and 34 percent of workers do not take vacations with their families. But 78 percent of people who take one vacation a year are happier and more satisfied with their lives.
Late last year, New Albany-based dental marketing firm SmartBox Web Marketing began giving its employees unlimited time off with a minimum — that’s right, “a minimum” — of two weeks vacation precisely because of that last statistic.
SmartBox creates websites for dental practices all over the country. The company started in 2014 with just two people in the founder’s basement. Now it has upwards of 70 employees and has been recognized by Inc. as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the country and the 18th fastest-growing marketing company.
Each website is customized for each dental practice, with creatives flying all over the country to meet with clients, create films, take photos and demonstrate how to use their products. Lots of the jobs are high-tech, so the employee roster skews toward millennials. Matt Tungate, director of production, noted that he was one of only a handful of employees over 40.
“Millenials expect a good work-life balance,” said Tungate.
According to Alex Hall, director of digital storytelling, “We’re always innovating,” so it only made sense to innovate with HR policies. (Their HR department is called the “Department of People.”)
“If someone is getting their job done, the manager knows it subjectively,” said Colin Receveur, founder and CEO, also a millennial.
Unlimited paid time off seems ripe for abuse. But surveys have shown that most employees who have the benefit take practically the same amount of time off as they did when they had set vacation days. That being said, Receveur and his team have worked on ways to measure people’s effectiveness more than just “subjectively.”
“Unlimited vacation policies convey trust, making employees — not their managers or HR directors — responsible for making sure their tasks and projects still get done regardless of the time they take away from the office,” wrote Nathan Christensen, CEO of Mammoth HR, in an article in “Fast Company.” Mammoth offered its employees unlimited time off for a year as a test and decided to implement it permanently.
“Offering unlimited vacation communicates that a company views its staff holistically — acknowledging that employees have demands and interests beyond work that can’t always be scheduled in advance,” wrote Christensen.
At SmartBox, Receveur had been mulling this HR change for a while, but he didn’t wait until he had all the kinks worked out to set it into motion.
“A big company would say we can’t roll it out until we nail it all down, but that’s also not a millennial attitude,” said Tungate.
That being said, there are rules in place. No rolling out of bed cranky and not showing up to work. Time off needs to be planned in advance and in conjunction with your team members to make sure your duties will be covered.
According to a survey by the Society for Human Resources, more than three-quarters of HR professionals think it is “extremely” or “very” important that employees take their vacation days. Vacation time, the survey determined, directly affects employee morale, wellness, performance and satisfaction with their work.
“Time off is a personal issue,” wrote Christensen. “Work styles and personal lives differ, both from person to person and year to year.”
Another benefit to employers is that the time spent keeping records of paid time off is eliminated and, when an employee leaves the company, there are no payouts to be made for unused time off.
Landon Antonetti, a video production expert with SmartBox (and also a millennial), is on the road six days a month filming the company’s clients, but he still likes to travel for fun. He already has taken advantage of the unlimited time off a couple of times. He has family in Florida that he has visited, and he and his wife just got married and took an eight-day vacation to Italy.
Lora Mindel is a digital practice consultant and is one of the few over-40s in the company. She spent much of her career in corporate environments where she said days off “were tracked very carefully.”
“It used to be that I would have to save up some vacation time to use during the holidays,” she said.
When asked if she had taken advantage of the new policy, her eyes lit up. “Not yet,” she said. But she and her husband will celebrate their wedding anniversary on a Hawaiian cruise next month, and she has other trips planned for later in the year.
The new time-off policy is a sign that the company appreciates its employees, she said.
But unlimited time off is just one of the innovative new HR policies at SmartBox.
The company has also kicked off a “SmartFit” employment guarantee, which means that if a new employee decides the company is not the right fit within the first 30 days, SmartBox will pay out a month’s salary as severance. This helps keep people from sticking around when they’re unhappy just so they have a job while they find a new one. It also lets SmartBox get back to searching for the right fit.
It’s reminiscent of the Lean Startup principle to “fail fast.”