It was after the trip of a lifetime that Bart Lorang had the idea that made him one of the best bosses ever.
Looking at photos from his trip to Egypt with his then-fiancée, he spotted one of him on a camel in front of the pyramids — and he was looking at his phone, checking his email.
That’s right — atop their normal salary, FullContact employees get an extra (and quite nice) chunk of change to actually fund their vacations. But there are three conditions: One, they have to go on a vacation to get the money; two, they have to “disconnect”— no calls, no emails, etc. — and finally, they cannot do any work of any kind.
“They can use it for whatever they want; I don’t care,” Lorang says. “They just have to take a vacation—they can go hike in the mountains for seven days and not spend a dime. But people are thinking of the money differently, like, ‘Wow, I can actually do this this year.’”
His employees — about 20, with plans to double it over the next six months — are obviously excited about it.
Jeanette Russell, director of BizOps at FullContact, describes the benefit in a word: fantastic.
“It shows the company’s genuine care for your well-being, and they understand that in the world we live in, sometimes we must be forced or torn away from our work, otherwise we wouldn’t take the time,” she says.
FullContact has a company photo album where employees share their vacation experiences. There have been Costa Rica surfing trips, college football games, and trips to Ireland and Sweden.
“It gives you the opportunity to be more lavish with your trip. Instead of going for a mountain retreat in Colorado, you could instead go on your mountain retreat in the Alps,” Russell says, noting that with her money she’s planning a trip to Norway.
“They are going to interesting places they would never have thought of going. They think of this money differently,” Lorang explains. “Too many people take a vacation and end up stressing about how much they’re spending.”
Lorang’s right: Last year, about 25 percent of employees responding to a CareerBuilder survey said they couldn’t afford a vacation.
The $7,500 might seem extra generous, but Lorang says figuring out the amount was all part of a scientific process. It was based on how much money it would cost to take a family of four to Mexico, Lorang explains, and stay at a nice place, eat good food, drink by the pool, etc., for six days, seven nights.
The benefits of disconnecting
The most important factor for Lorang—the one that’s written in the rules—is that employees have to disconnect from the workplace.
“The key was not just the ‘paid, paid vacation,’ but also tying it to going off the grid and disconnecting,” Lorang explains.
Citing the camel incident, Lorang admits he isn’t good at putting work on the backburner.
“I suck at it,” he says.
But Lorang isn’t the only one. He says his employees also have a hard time with it, especially for the first few days of the vacation, “It’s particularly bad in our line of work because we’re literally always online. We’re sort of early adopters.”
FullContact is a software provider that automates filling in, updating and organizing information for leads and contacts.
“You literally have to shut your brain down,” Russell says. “It forces you to enjoy that time and focus on other aspects of your life — family, hobbies and so on — that may lack your attention due to work.”
Disconnecting is hard for most. According to a vacation survey by Fierce, a Seattle-based leadership and training company, almost half of workers check into work at least every other day while they’re on vacation, and 6.5 percent check in multiple times per day. And, according to Careerbuilder, almost 40 percent of managers expect their employees to stay connected while away.
What’s worse, though, the survey found worker stress isn’t alleviated by the vacation employees desire so much. In fact, almost 30 percent feel more stressed after they return from vacation.
So how do we solve the problem?
A solution to employee stress
One key way to solving it may be to simply allow more — or unlimited — vacation days, some experts argue. Plus, managers need to have conversations about PTO and insist that their employees take a break.
Despite the small number of vacation days a typical American employee gets, the average worker leaves two days of vacation time unused, in effect handing over $34.3 billion to their employers, according to the travel website Expedia.
By taking days off, employees actually are doing their employers a favor. According to the 2012 Aflac Workforces Report, stressed-out workers are twice as likely to leave their job as workers who aren’t stressed (43 percent vs. 25 percent).