Many surveys have recently indicated American workers are feeling burned out and less engaged in their jobs. Scott Behson, professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, told the Harvard Business Review that because Amazon is so data-driven, their experiment could prove that long hours don’t correlate with high performance.
“If the experiment is successful, arrangements like these could help reshape Amazon’s workplace culture by sending a clear signal that performance is more important than face time,” said Behson.
Other companies are also moving to offer employees more flexibility and time off. Cisco offers up to 30 days of vacation. Dell recently announced that it plans to give 50% of its employees flexible schedules by the year 2020. Netflix also offers unlimited time off for the first year for new parents, and Twitter reportedly doesn’t even track time off.
Companies have generally found that when instituting such policies, few employees abuse it. In fact, most of these employees take little additional time off but show a big increase in satisfaction. Nathan Christensen, CEO of MammothHR in Portland, Ore., told Fast Company that when they experimented with an unlimited vacation policy, employees still took roughly the same number of days off as they did they year before. Christensen reported the average number of days taken off under the unlimited policy was 14 days, with the most being only 19. Nevertheless, Christensen said the policy immediately became one of their employees’ most valued benefits, just behind health insurance and the 401(k) plan.
Christensen said the real value in unlimited vacation policies are more about what they say than what they do. “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,” he said.
CEOs who want to implement more flexibility for their workforce can do so incrementally and experimentally. Christensen said C-suite leaders will first have to be ready to shift their focus “from the clock to contribution” by a shift in mindset that revolves less around time and more around productivity. He said there also has to be guidelines and systems for requesting time off and for employees to know when it’s not appropriate. Christensen said there also has to be a strong understanding that such policies are a “two way street.” He said they offer flexibility as a way to invest in the personal lives of employees. But as a result, he expects a higher level of engagement and commitment. “In return for flexibility, we ask our employees to invest themselves in our mission, making sure their work gets done and gets done well,” he said.