I’m part of the 2 percent. I work for the tiny fraction of U.S. companies that offer unlimited paid time off (PTO). That’s right, I get to watch The Price Is Right live as much as I want! Or something like that.
Are you jealous? Don’t be. You’re probably taking more vacation than I am — because workers under traditional use-it-or-lose-it policies usually take off more time than we 2 percenters.
At every organization, regardless of PTO policy, people feel reluctant to take days off. One study showed that 41 percent of Americans don’t take any vacation days at all. At. All.
Is that you? Are you someone who thinks your company is overpaying you so you choose to reject part of your compensation? (That’s what PTO is, after all.) Or do you fear that work will build up? (Don’t worry. Your plate will be full no matter what you can’t accomplish today, tomorrow, and many tomorrows after.) Or maybe you think your department will collapse if you’re not there for a few weeks? (The whole company, probably. Maybe even the country. The planet.) Or do you simply agonize over the optics of potentially taking off too many days? (Whatever “too many” means.)
The last concern is especially relevant under an unlimited PTO plan. At my company, I’m told that, really, no really, no but for real, really, people may take PTO as they wish. That’s why, after starting my job this past June, I’ll be taking the next six months off.
No I won’t. Because I can’t. (Can I? Boss, you reading this?) Obviously, truly unlimited is truly impossible, but that’s beside the point — because this has nothing to do with policy and everything do with branding.
Unlimited PTO is a corporate cultural value disguised as a benefit. It’s less about giving people freedom to take vacation days and more about branding an employer as progressive and humane. It’s a stance that implicitly conveys that the business treats adults like adults by empowering people to balance work and life. It’s a marketing ploy to attract candidates.
Does that sound crass? Cynical?
Maybe, but there’s nothing wrong with using a perk to brand yourself as an employer of choice. There is, however, something wrong when a policy is on paper only. So if you’re going to offer unlimited PTO, here’s the LiberGuide to doing it right:
Do Not Track
Don’t calculate how many days your people take off. I know, I know, you think you need these details, but for what? Don’t you have enough big data that you don’t know how to or plan to use?
Information is only important as you make it. Choosing not to measure PTO tells workers that you’re not judging your people based on time they take off. It also helps cut down on paranoia by discouraging people from benchmarking their PTO against their colleagues’.
OK, but what if people abuse your policy?
Except, what does it mean to abuse unlimited PTO? I’ll tell you what it does not mean: taking off too many days. Companies should judge people against meeting reasonable quality and quantity of work expectations, particularly since we all know that showing up for work doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doing any.
The key word above is reasonable. If workload demands or cultural expectations necessarily prevent employees from taking PTO, then you best believe your employees will let everyone know on Glassdoor. (So much for your branding trick.)
Finally, and most importantly, force people to stay away from work by creating a minimum PTO policy. Tell your people that they must take two or three weeks off per year, and make sure they do it. (This is your only excuse for breaking the do-not-track rule, and even then, you needn’t keep tabs beyond the minimum days.)
A minimum PTO policy is a great way to let your people know that you want them to relax and recharge and have a life outside of work. (And, by the way, you don’t need unlimited PTO to have minimum PTO.)
All that said, I’m not naive. I know that unlimited PTO is a lie at many organizations. But it doesn’t have to be.
As if you haven’t read enough opinions about the fiasco that a Google software engineer sparked with his memo about diversity, I’m about to offer viewpoint #67,945 on the matter. Here goes:
It was not what the guy said that offended people. It was that he had the balls to say it. I mean that literally. It was because he was a man.
Before I explain what I mean, here’s a brief recap of what went down. Googler James Damore recently penned an internal memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” in which he posited biology’s role in explaining why women are underrepresented in tech.
“We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” Damore wrote, citing numerous stereotypes, assumptions, and opinions explaining that chicks don’t want jobs they aren’t inherently good at. (Just stick to nursing and teaching kindergarten, ladies.)
People got offended by what they perceived as sexist remarks. Not offended enough to vote for Damore for President of the United States, but just enough for Google to fire him. The company’s diversity chief, Danielle Brown, explained that Damore’s opinion is “not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”
Or even discusses, apparently. Continue reading
What’s the best part about being out of work?
When you’re no longer out of work. Obviously, getting hired was the highpoint of my recent job search. That aside, throughout my journey from unemployment to becoming Texas’ newest cowboy, I went through a range of experiences, some great, most mediocre, some far from great, and one that shocked me so much—and really, almost nothing surprises me since Nov. 8, 2016—that I can barely talk about it to this day.
Who am I kidding? I love talking about it!
I love talking about a whole bunch of things that happened to me as I zigzagged through a process that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. (Who am I kidding? Of course I would!)
I could go on and on about the highs and the lows of my unemployment escapade, but instead, let me tell you about a couple of incidents at both extremes. Continue reading
Now this is the story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute. Just sit right there. I’ll tell you how I got a job, with a bit of flair.
But before I begin, I recognize that it’s been seven hours and fifteen days since I blogged last (sorry, couldn’t resist another song reference). I hate myself even more than usual for neglecting my tens of fans for so long, so I promise to try to inform, provoke, and entertain more regularly.
With that half-apology out of the way, you guys, omigod, I got a new job!
Of course, lots of people write about how they landed a new role to encourage job-seekers brag: “Look at me, everybody! My dreams came true! And yours will, too…if you do exactly as I did.”
All this Oprah-fied pseudo-inspirational babble rarely cites the most important skill to score a job—because it isn’t a skill at all. And since it isn’t an actual ability, then everything else this slew of swaggerers spews resembles nothing more than gloating for clicks.
So, what is this essential non-skill skill that you need to win a new job? Continue reading
I have a friend who’s looking for a job. For real, a friend. Not a “friend.” While I’m also currently searching for new work, this isn’t an after-school special in which we all know the real identity of the “friend.” But like the moral tales you sometimes watched when you got home from class, this story also offers a valuable lesson.
What I’m about to describe is every candidate’s worst nightmare. It’s something that lots of people wonder: Does this actually happen? It happens. Sometimes like this:
My friend Steve* (of course there’s an asterisk) was recently offered a job at America’s Most Disorganized Employer* (there it is again!). He was eager to accept it, except the offer letter lacked enough details. Beyond salary, it mentioned little else. Clearly, a red flag demonstrating a sloppy hiring process or total ignorance about what candidates value, or both.
So Steve did what every candidate should in such situations. He contacted the hiring manager for more information. That’s when he learned that America’s Most Disorganized Employer allows only 10 days for PTO, including sick days. But who cares. Is there free soda? A ping-pong table?
Nothing like companies offering stupid, meaningless perks to try to hide an unwillingness to recognize that people have lives outside the workplace, right? The best talent such firms can hope to lure are job-seekers desperate for work.
Steve was one of those people. He was planning to ultimately accept any offer, but again, he did what every candidate should. He negotiated for more money and more time off, to which the hiring manager replied, “There’s wiggle room.”
No there wasn’t. Continue reading
Beware of people who say things like, “I’m the sort of person who likes to get things done.” They almost always make this remark when trying to impress an interviewer, colleague, or manager. The implication is that while all the losers around them are busy being losers, these are the stars of your organization. Often, though, they’re just jerks, or walking clichés at the very least.
The reality is that all of us like to accomplish things. That’s why I hate the term results-oriented to describe anyone.
Know what else I hate? Best practices. So you can imagine how I feel when I hear pundits, executives, and everyone else preach that a best practice for building a results-oriented workplace is to recognize employees who produce…results.
It’s a line that so many people repeat so many times that it’s easy to mistake it for a fact.
It’s actually an alternative fact, an opinion disfigured into a recommendation because it makes intuitive sense. If this seems intuitive to you, too, your intuition is fooling you.
Rewarded for Luck
A while back, I spoke to Michael Mauboussin, Credit Suisse’s head of global financial strategies and author of The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. He explained something that you probably already feel in your gut but might be too panicky, egotistical, or deluded to admit: Many of your achievements—the same ones that earn you praise (or punishment)—are largely beyond your control. Mauboussin explained:
There’s a continuum of things that are pure luck on one end and pure skill on the other. When your outcomes are truly a reflection of the work that you’re doing, a results-oriented evaluation is not unreasonable, like in manufacturing, which is very skills-oriented. But things like launching a successful R&D project are inherently probabilistic, with a lot of randomness and luck to them. There are profound influences that are hard to anticipate.
And get this: The higher you are on the ladder, the greater the role that luck plays in your work. You know what else grows with each rung? Compensation. All of which means that a four-leaf clover increasingly determines what you earn in cash and recognition as you move up a hierarchy. Continue reading
When change-management efforts fail, it’s worth pondering if it was really a lack of efforts that ruined everything. That is, maybe it’s less about what leaders did and more about what they didn’t do.
This week, I’ve been sharing a series of posts featuring what 25 senior executives at leading organizations told me about how they manage change. Their insights come from an article I wrote some years back, but they are just as relevant now.
Today, in the series’ third and final post, I want to highlight the role that leadership and communication play when managing change.
Read below what execs from Verizon, MassMutual, Novartis, and other big companies have to say about leading and communicating change. (Note that companies and titles reflect people’s roles at the time the article was published. In fact, today almost none of the 25 executives interviewed work for the same corporation and even fewer hold the same job. You know, things change. To view their full comments, and those of other executives, check out the original article, “Will Your People Be Ready?”.) Continue reading
Is it better for a company to develop a sea of generalists or specialists?
The ideal answer is probably yes—in the sense that you want to have a mix of both types of workers. But given limited resources, which would yield a better workforce?
This week, I’m sharing a series of posts featuring what 25 senior executives at leading organizations told me about how they manage change, including answers to the question above. Their insights come from an article I wrote some years back, but they are just as relevant now.
Change’s Impact on L&D
Today, in the series’ second installment, I want to focus on how change influences learning and development efforts, and vice versa.
Read below what execs from Caterpillar, Shell, General Mills, Deloitte, and other big companies have to say about how L&D and change management intersect. (Note that companies and titles reflect people’s roles at the time the article was published. In fact, almost none of the 25 executives interviewed work for the same corporation and even fewer hold the same job today. You know, things change. To view their full comments, and those of other executives, check out the original article, “Will Your People Be Ready?”.) Continue reading
Change makes me nervous. There, I said it.
It unsettles me for the same reason it unsettles you—because as much as today might suck, tomorrow could suck worse. (Want proof? Watch CNN’s political coverage.)
Of course, you’re not supposed to actually admit your insecurity. In job interviews, during work meetings, and when speaking with colleagues, you’re expected to talk about how change brings fresh possibilities and new opportunities. You’re supposed to spout some bullshit about how you thrive in uncertainty and ambiguity. Bring it, yo! You’re an effing change agent! And don’t change agents love change?
No! Change agents like when they initiate change. But they’re just as likely as anyone to get the jitters, maybe even more so, when someone else grabs the wheel to careen down a new road. Still, when an organization tinkers with people’s routines, you know the response it wants: Yes we can!
Yes we can! But do we want to?
Take what’s happening at IBM right now. The company’s Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso recently announced that U.S. marketing staff may no longer work remotely or out of smaller district offices. (Supposedly, the new policy will extend to many more workers.) Employees have 30 days to decide whether to report/relocate to one of six “strategic” locations: Austin, San Francisco, New York, Cambridge (Mass), Atlanta, and Raleigh. What’s more, they will not get to choose the city. Continue reading
Someone in your family just died. That’s really too bad, and work must be the last thing on your mind. You’ll obviously need time to grieve, attend a funeral, blah, blah, blah, but you’ll be OK enough to head back to the office really soon, right? Like, perhaps in three days? Sound cool to you?
Of course, you may take longer than that, but things may get…um…you know…kind of complicated to figure out. But really, you should take whatever time you need. Still, three days should be sufficient, right?
That’s essentially the response that many workers get from their employers after a loved one dies. While few managers or HR professionals would ever say the above, they don’t have to. They have policies to do it for them. Nationwide, the average length of paid leave for bereavement of immediate family members is three days. One day for your cousin Shelby.
Ain’t no way I’d be able to work, let alone function semi-normally, that soon. And I doubt you would. Neither would anyone who works in HR—you know, the same people who craft or uphold these egregious edicts.
So why not change the rules? Continue reading