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When PTO favors the CEO

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April is the vacation-planning month for employees looking for a reprieve from the rat race this summer.

Looking forward to the waterpark with the kids, sunny family barbeques, or even just getting stuff done and enjoying home life, #staycation, we all need time to unwind. Unfortunately, even with plans that go beyond legal minimums designed to provide paid sick leave to the lowest paid employees, we continue to see the gap widening between time off at the top rung of the ladder and the majority of non-executive employees. Equally intriguing may be the gender gap showing that women are less likely to take the vacation time they are given, particularly with millennials.

While it's a valid argument that executives, both male and female, are less likely to check-out completely and unplug from decision making for long absences, it's become increasingly normal for all levels of employees to check email and volunteer to contribute while on their time off. We live in a very connected world run by habitual checking of emails, voice and text messages and FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out.

And, who among us hasn't dreaded getting "back to the grind" because of an overflowing inbox and piled up work? So, is it fair that the executive team receives substantially more "time off" in their bucket than other employee groups?

Studies continue to show that productivity wanes and burn-out soars when workers don't take time off. It's also true that we learn how to advance and climb the corporate ladder from watching management. In other words, we know the back story is that you never want to be seen to be less committed to the company than the boss.

To get around this conundrum, some companies are requiring their C-suite and executives to take at least 2 weeks off during the year. During this time, management is expected to be unavailable and truly learn how to disconnect and finding life's meaning outside of work. Essentially, they are asked to model the behavior we want employees to embrace and throw out the "Do what I say and not what I do" paradox.

Unlimited, or self-managed, time off has become increasingly popular but not for the reasons you might predict.

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A year-long trial study by the Fast Co. deduced that "unlimited vacation is at least as valuable for what it says as for what it does." Noting that employees did not take a significantly number of days off under the unlimited plan than with the accrual method, the message had more powerful impact on Ownership mentality (scheduling of work), Trust, and respect for the Individual (flexibility).

Whether your company adopts a self-managed PTO program or evaluates its current accrual-based time off practices, it is a good idea to check for equality--in word and deed--to ensure you are supporting a healthy and sustainable workplace. Make employees feel that they are encouraged to take time off, make it easy for them to request the time, and plan accordingly so they are not buried in a mountain of work when they return.

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