When it Comes to Vacations, CEOs Have Some Hard Work to Do

“In the end, only senior executives can embed the necessary cultural change,” Cahill says. “That means the CEO personally should take advantage of work-life policies—and let everybody in the company know about it. Only then will workers throughout the company feel secure in relying on policies that will enhance their value to the company over the long run.”

Perhaps controversially, Cahill recommends vacations form part of performance reviews, including the CEO’s. Those failing to take their full leave quota would get a black mark against their name, possibly losing out on a pay increase.

Americans took an average of 16.2 vacation days last year, down from an average of 20.3 days between 1976 and 2000, according to a recent study by lobby group Project Time Off.

“The CEO personally should take advantage of work-life policies—and let everybody in the company know about it.”

There are signs, however, that companies are starting to offer a better deal, at least to the rank and file. A survey of 1,500 company leaders released this month by human resources consultancy Mercer discovered 42% encouraged fathers to take paternity leave. Other non-traditional benefits increasingly being offered by companies include parental leave for part-time employees, adoption leave and time away to care for sick or elderly relatives.

But for CEOs themselves, it appears they have some work to do when it comes to not working as much. A recent investigation of U.S. company filings by Bloomberg identified a large group of leaders who are owed thousands of dollars for unused vacation time.

Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb, for example, has accrued 2,703 hours of unused vacation leave, or the equivalent of 338 eight-hour days, over several decades. Other CEOs found to have amassed tons of leave include Qualcomm’s Steven Mollenkopf, HCA Holdings’ R. Milton Johnson and Apple’s Tim Cook.

At the other end of the spectrum is Netflix’s Reed Hastings, who told a conference last year that he takes off about six weeks a year, and lets staff know about it to set an example.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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