Pre-cation benefits are making headlines lately. The idea is to give employees 2 weeks of paid vacation before they come in to work, as a new sort of job benefit. The policy is innovative, but it can also be problematic.
For example, one Salon.com article describes it as a “trap,”—noting that it encourages a common, insidious practice. Many employers give out vacation days on paper only to penalize employees for taking them. The writer of the dissenting article feared that this benefit would sort of turn into the one vacation workers get so long as they continue to work for the company, regardless of any additional vacation days on offer.
On the opposite extreme, you’ve got companies who are downright forcing employees to take vacations, a practice which I don’t agree with. Once I’ve set my rules and expectations about employee work output and vacation time, it’s up to them to determine how they will work within those guidelines and parameters. I believe in motivating and empowering my employees by treating them like adults.
Of course, this works in my company because I uphold my end of that agreement. I would never penalize an employee for taking his earned vacation benefits. To do so would be the equivalent of penalizing an employee for wanting his agreed-upon salary.
The key, then, is to avoid swinging to either extreme. Don’t force vacations, and don’t penalize people for taking them. Offering “precations” can be just fine—but only if you avoid turning it into a “bait and switch” somewhere along the line. If your offer letter comes with a precation and ten additional days of vacation time after one year then guess what? That employee’s job needs to be there when he or she comes back from vacation. If the employee isn’t a good hire make sure the pink slip conversation happens well before the scheduled vacation time does.
Here’s why. The moment you fire someone for using a benefit you chose to offer you’ve lost integrity. The same goes if you choose to penalize someone in any other way over using their vacation days—even if it’s just an off-handed comment that they don’t seem to be “dedicated team players.”
When you engage in these behaviors you’re sending a message to your employees, one that says your word does not matter. You’re just another liar, just another employer who is out to squeeze and screw them for everything they’re worth before tossing them aside like so much garbage.
Once you’ve sent that message there’s no going back. You can use every positive, forward-thinking leadership strategy in the book. You can create teamwork seminars. You can institute empowerment practices and wax poetic about your “open door policy.” You can offer a flexible telecommute policy. It won’t matter. Everything you do from that point on will be suspect, and employees will start disengaging.
Integrity is the best employee-motivation tool on the planet. Either offer the vacation benefit and honor it, or don’t offer vacation at all.