Why more companies like Principal are giving workers unlimited vacation

A year after rolling out a "responsible time-off" program that allowed employees to schedule as much time off as they liked (within reason), insurance brokerage Holmes Murphy reports little change in the time employees spend away from work.

"It's pretty similar to what they were used to doing," said Heidi Buttolph, the company's chief engagement and talent officer. "We haven’t seen it being taken advantage of nor have we seen people taking less time as a result of it."

Even so, employees loved the change, she said. 

The program empowers workers to balance the time they need off for weddings, doctor appointments and vacations against their individual work duties, Buttolph said.

"I do believe it kind of goes back to the whole idea that they’re not having to manage to a bank of time," she said. "They have this feeling that they're being trusted."

After offering a paid-time-off program for 17 years, many employees had amassed valuable PTO days. Holmes Murphy allowed workers to cash in the financial value of that benefit immediately or over time, Buttolph said. 

"That choice was in their hand," she said. "So it wasn’t like they felt like they were losing what they had banked."

Over time, moving away from a PTO program to a flexible-time-off plan could provide cost savings, Buttolph said, as the company relinquishes the ongoing costs of workers banking in PTO as they resign or retire. 

The West Des Moines-based company rolled out the responsible time-off plan within the context of a wider work culture,  Buttolph said. The brokerage has made efforts to appeal to younger workers.

And it will move its headquarters to a Waukee development to create a more open, collaborative work space, officials announced last year.

"Our whole work environment is evolving," Buttolph said.

"People aren’t used to the idea of something called unlimited vacation"

Unlimited time off plans are the darling concept of nimble, tech-centered companies like Netflix and LinkedIn.

But the idea has expanded beyond the bubble of Silicon Valley, which is rich with unique employee benefits like free catered lunches, ping-pong tables in the work space and flexible work schedules.

In 2015, General Electric, number 13 on Fortune magazine's ranking of the nation's highest-revenue companies, rolled out an unlimited vacation plan for its salaried workers.

And several Iowa firms have rolled out the feature in recent years.

Dwolla, one of the most storied firms in the Des Moines startup scene, has offered unlimited time off since its inception.

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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