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The Vacation Paradox: Why Some Companies Are Paying Workers to Go Away

Imagine a job where you could take as many paid vacation days as you wanted, as long as you got your work done. Even better, imagine your employer offered you a vacation bonus to go away awhile and not work at all. Too good to be true? The stuff dreams are made of? In fact, for some workers this is the new normal.

More young companies like Netflix, Evernote, Zynga and FullContact are rethinking traditional vacation policies. Some are cutting through bureaucracy and offering employees the autonomy to decide how much vacation time is right for them. Others, fearing employee burnout, are incentivizing relaxation by offering vacation spending money to encourage employees to truly rest and unplug.

A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive of over 2,500 adults working in major U.S. cities found that 57% of salaried workers don’t take all of their allotted time off. Employers in France, Italy, Germany and Brazil are required to provide workers 35 to 40 days off a year, but the U.S. has no minimum and companies provide an average of just two weeks. Yet, ironically, the more you work, the less you get done. Research shows that if you consistently work more than 40 hours a week and don’t take vacation, you become ill, your family is negatively impacted and your productivity goes down.

Unlimited vacation time is still a rarity, but more companies are catching on. Human Resources association WorldatWork reports that 1% of companies are now offering unlimited paid vacation days. It shows a level of trust–that you value your employees and trust that they’ll work hard when they need to.

However, research shows that simply taking vacation won’t automatically reduce stress. In a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. workers by leadership development and training company Fierce, nearly 60% said taking a vacation doesn’t relieve their stress, and more than a quarter said they’re even more stressed when they return to work. Many admitted to checking emails and taking phone calls while away, sometimes multiple times a day.

Bart Lorang, chief executive of FullContact, a cloud-based contact management company, noticed that his employees were working even when they were on vacation. Instead of coming back recharged, they were fried. “We thought: How do we make sure people truly disconnect and relax?” says Lorang. “Incentivize it.”

FullContact now offers “paid paid vacation” to its 18 employees. Once a year, each staff member gets a whopping $7,500—enough for a family of four to travel somewhere tropical—to go away. Lorang says it reinforces the importance of resting, while also reducing the stress of spending lots of money to travel. The cash does come with stipulations: Employees have to really take a vacation, they must completely disconnect from technology, and they aren’t allowed to work while away. “People come back so much more refreshed,” says Lorang.

The new policy is great for workers, but it’s also good for the company. On the one hand, it’s an incredible recruiting tool; resumes are pouring into FullContact. On the other, it forces employees to ditch the “hero mentality”– the idea that no one else can do the job but them. “There’s no single point of failure,” Lorang says. “If you know you won’t be available, you document things, share knowledge, have back-up plans. It makes the organization better.”

Whether more global companies begin offering unlimited vacation, up the number of days available or hand out vacation money, “they’ve got to do something!” “Working hard is embedded in America, Japan, China and India, but one has to remember that people are vulnerable. We wear out or burn out. Every research has proven that health and productivity of employees improve dramatically when they take a few days off and disconnect in totality from the grind.

So what’s your destination this holiday season?

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