May 29, 2018

How to implement a flexible time-off program

Following the launch of Ceridian’s new Time Away From Work program, Chief People and Culture Officer Lisa Sterling shares how to implement this type of program successfully.

Lisa Sterling

As Chief People and Culture Officer, Lisa is responsible for executing Ceridian's global people strategy combined with leading the vision on the Dayforce Talent Management offering.

Workplace flexibility and employee empowerment are increasingly becoming a focus for employers who are looking to improve the employee experience and create cultural change at their organizations.

To be a trend-setter and leader in today’s workforce, and to truly address employee needs, employers must consider re-evaluating their traditional policies for vacation and paid days off (PDO). Evolving these policies shows employees employers are willing to invest in creating environments encouraging both personal and professional success.  

That’s why Ceridian recently launched its new Time Away From Work (TAFW) program, providing employees with flexibility in the amount of time they can take off from work.

This is not a change that should be taken lightly. It’s not simply changing a policy, it’s creating a new experience driven by trust and transparency with your people. Employers must be thoughtful and purposeful about the process, which is not one-size-fits all. There must a great deal of time spent behind the scenes to create a program and set of experiences that works for your organization. Here are four things you need to know to implement a flexible time off strategy successfully.

Be clear on the why

Implementing a flexible time off program is not about matching what competitors are doing, and it’s not a generational thing either. You can’t implement a program like this on general terms, or without thinking it through multiple angles.

Time off is a personal issue, and your program will express how you treat your employees. Start with asking two key questions: What are you trying to accomplish, and what are your desired outcomes or benefits from the program?

For some organizations, flexible time off is a financial decision. If that’s the case, make that clear to your people. Don’t position the program as a focus on your people’s wellness if that’s not what it’s about. People will see past it and it will become a barrier to creating trust with employees now and in the future. Be transparent and accountable to your people.

If the program is about your people, think about how you will encourage people to take time away. How will your leaders be good examples and advocates? How will you ensure tenured employees don’t feel that they are losing something (a point we’ll discuss later) or their years of service are no longer relevant? There are numerous ways you can show and promote you’re doing it for your people and their overall wellness.

Part of being clear on why you’re doing it is understanding the benefits. If you’re saving costs, how can you reinvest or reallocate that budget for your people in other ways? Clarity is key to communicating with leadership and employees as you move through the process.

Understand your people and your organization

Traditional vacation and PDO policies were not designed to delineate between recognition and rewards, and this is something leaders must be prepared for before implementing a new program.

Recognition is intangible. It’s a relational experience. For example, recognizing an employee for years of service, or a job well done on a project is something leaders should be doing on a continuous basis. Rewards are tangible, for example, a monetary reward or bonus for a stellar contribution or performance.

The challenge for HR leaders is that traditional HR models lump recognition and rewards together, and as such, many employees view their time away from work as a reward for years of service. Tenured employees see the number of vacation days they have as a sense of reward they have earned, and many may feel it’s unfair for an employee who has just joined your company to have access to the same amount of vacation time as they do. Consider how you will address accrued, unused time before moving to a new program.

Different employees have different emotional responses to what “time off” means to them and that’s why it’s critical to understand your workforce as part of your strategy. Ceridian is a great case study in this regard, because we are a blend of diverse ages and tenures, and have virtual, part-time and full-time employees, with offices across the globe.

Another key part of your strategy is to make the shift away from traditional HR models by really delineating rewards and recognition. There needs to be a shift from recognizing a person for years of service, and rewarding them for what they do. An employee could be a tenured individual but not be a key contributor, whereas a new employee may make instrumental contributions very early into their career with your organization.  This is a great example of why it’s imperative to delineate rewards and recognition.

Overall, communication and an effective change management strategy is absolutely necessary. Clearly communicate time off isn’t about something “owed” to the employee or something they “earned.” At Ceridian, we want to create an atmosphere and environment where employees can be the best version of themselves outside of work, to be their best at work.

Level-set with leaders

Our experience at Ceridian took time. We were very thoughtful and methodical about what we wanted to accomplish and how we wanted to implement it. We had to level-set with our leaders, get their buy-in and help them be ready to address the comments, questions and next steps.

There is a lot of effort, education and change management that comes with evolving a program like this one, and it’s critical for organizational leaders to understand their role in its success. Part of the preparation is helping them understand your workforce, and the logistics and tangible benefits of implementing it.

Your leadership team, from your executives to front line leaders, should be your primary advocate for the program. They should set the stage for expectations, and encourage people to take time off. They also must guide and consult people on what’s reasonable and customary in terms of time off. They need to think about how work is scheduled and gets done, and should own ensuring coverage is taken care of instead of putting that on the employee.

There’s a real aspect of transparency, communication and trust that must exist between leaders and employees that they must prepare for to be successful.

Monitor and measure outcomes

With any policy or program, you can’t measure success without setting metrics to monitor and measure. There are clear trends and behaviors that will come out of implementing flexible time off. It’s important to not only monitor those trends and behaviors, but take steps to understand what they mean in terms of your people and your organization.

For example, continue to record vacation time. Are your employees taking time off? If they aren’t, why? If employees aren’t taking the time, you can consider implementing additional elements to encourage them to do so. Set minimum thresholds for days off per quarter, or entice people with a monetary vacation reward to encourage them to take time off. Showcase taking time off leads to higher productivity and engagement, and reduced absenteeism. Recording time away from work also makes it possible for managers and employees to better plan around time off as a team, helping with overall organizational success.

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