I love cool stories about workplace productivity like this. The daily grind is exhausting and monotonous, but the CEO of the marketing and advertising company SteelHouse claims he has a solution for enhancing productivity and promoting healthy employee work-life balance. In an interview with Business Insider, SteelHouse CEO Mark Douglas outlines how giving employees $2000 to take a vacation has revolutionized the company’s culture. via Business Insider:
“If you have a caged lion that was born in captivity, and then you open the cage, they back up more into the cage. They don’t start running free,” he told Business Insider. “When we first started telling people they had unlimited vacation, they didn’t even know how to interpret that.”
That was in 2010, when SteelHouse launched. By 2011, Douglas had figured out a solution: Pay people to take vacation.
If you work at SteelHouse, the company will pay you $2,000 a year to go anywhere in the world and do anything you want (provided it’s not illegal). You can spread it out across multiple trips or blow it all at once; Douglas leaves it up to the team member.
Here’s the thing: You have to use the money for a vacation. You can’t just have the cash. But the company is diligent in reimbursing employees quickly:
The trust goes both ways, he adds. Employees who buy their plane tickets on a Monday will get reimbursed by Tuesday. If the employee can’t front the cash, SteelHouse will let them use the company credit card to book the flight. Once people return from their trips, they can submit their expenses for reimbursement up to the $2,000 cap.
Of course, some people have said they don’t need time off and asked for a $2,000 bonus instead, but Douglas is adamant about how the money is used. “I actually want you to go somewhere and enjoy yourself,” he said.
And this audacious plan is working! The SteelHouse CEO says this is reaping dividends in terms of productivity:
The results have spoken for themselves, Douglas says. In the last three years, only five people out of 250 have left the company, three of whom left for reasons unrelated to the job itself. “We have virtually zero turnover,” he said. The company has also found that people who come to work recharged tend to be more productive.
SteelHouse isn’t the only company implementing such a policy these days. Last year we told you about FullContact, a Denver-based tech company that offered their employees even more money for a vacation: $7,500 to go wherever you want and do whatever you want.
Lorang has implemented a “paid paid vacation” model, buying each of his 60+ employees a vacation every year, on top of the 15 vacation days allotted per year. The vacation allowance: $7,500. So we’re not talking about a long weekend in Cleveland, we’re talking about wherever the fuck you want to go. And to make it even better, he only pays for vacation under the condition that employees don’t have any contact with the outside world while they’re away, including all work related activities.
Lorang began this initiative back in 2012 and claims it has been wildly successful for business. He’s indicated that workers not only come back enthused and rejuvenated but it avoids a common phenomenon in the tech industry dubbed ‘hero syndrome,’ which is when employees want to be the only ones who can do their job under the impression that their value increases. Avoiding this allows for information to be shared more readily, which in turn leads to a widespread empowering of FullContact’s entire workforce.
Badass. As the millennial workforce grows, it will be interesting to see if more and more policies like this become the new office norm.