Employees talk about their desire to achieve work-life balance with almost the same vigor as a knight's quest to find the Holy Grail. What does work life balance really mean when it comes to vacation time? From several recent studies, many workers fail to take the full amount of vacation they are given each year and yet the demand for more down time and balance continues to surface on annual employee engagement studies. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Canada isn’t known for generous vacation entitlements like those that European workers experience. In fact, we’re in the bottom third with only 10 paid vacation days and a minimum requirement for time off as stated in our labour standards. We sit in close company with the United States who has no requirement for vacation time whatsoever. Yet who is really complaining? According to a survey by TD, 43 percent of working Canadians report not taking their full vacation entitlement each year. Reasons for this decision include being too busy at work, dealing with last-minute work challenges, not being able to afford it, and feeling that there would be too much to do in order to get ready for the trip to warrant taking it.
Vacation time can be a useful and tangible benefits tool when viewed as part of total compensation or total rewards strategy. When employers show workers the value of their total benefits as part of the bigger picture compensation statement, which includes vacation time, it becomes something that has a dollar value attached to it. It suddenly seems more like a commodity that can be bought or sold.
Offering vacation buy and sell arrangements may be an important step to providing choice for those who want to take more vacation and the opportunity to sell or donate extra vacation time for those who don't wish to take it.
Vacation policies are determined in part by what’s legislated, but also by the philosophy of the company. There are many factors at play including competition for talent, shift work and production schedules as well as the generational and demographic make-up of the workplace.
With more stress claims and mental health issues in the workplace, vacation policies are being revisited with a renewed focus.
A 2012 IFEBP study showed that many employers permit employees to take extra vacation time as unpaid leave while others offer the option to buy and sell their vacation time. In Canada, 25 percent of flexible benefit plans include vacation days. This approach allows the buy and sell arrangements through flex credits or prorated payroll deductions. Careful consideration should be given to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) tax rules and the employee needs to take purchased vacation within the same year in order for it not to be considered a salary deferral arrangement.
There also needs to be guidelines for caps related to the number of vacation days that can be bought and sold. When entering into this type of flexible benefit offering, there will be added administration required, which should be factored into the equation when planning an offering of this nature.
There is a lot to think about when designing or revising vacation policies and communicating them as part of the total rewards package. We can help you effectively articulate the value of vacation as an exact dollar amount assigned to an employee and the choices for buying for selling it. Please contact us. We’re here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Last month I blogged about the cost of sleep deprivation in the workplace. This topic is becoming more of an issue with the prevalence of stress in the workplace, people feeling overly connected to their mobile devices, along with a demographic cohort caught in the sandwich generation -
- those caring for children and aging parents.
Sleep researchers tell us that getting 8 hours a night of sleep is optimal for our health, but why? Is it just because we've read that sleep helps us with our memory? No, it is far more involved. Sleep plays a key role in the brain's physiological maintenance. When you sleep, the brain acts as a mental janitor and sweeps away all the junk like the protein beta-amyloid that has been accumulated throughout a day's worth of thinking.
Whether from a stressful week with tight deadlines or after pulling an all-nighter; the results of sleep deprivation aren't fun -- you struggle to focus, your reaction time is impaired, your short and long term memory is compromised, and it becomes more difficult to make decisions. Now, imagine the long-term outcomes of sleep deprivation. Picture someone suffering from insomnia or a shift worker. They have a greater tendency to experience a degeneration of key neurons responsible for alertness and cortical function. Getting less than 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night over long periods of time also speeds up the aging process, causes high blood pressure and can lead to obesity. Often workplace environments don't promote the importance of sleep. Work demands pile up and being 'plugged-in' and available 24/7 to meet the needs of a truly global workforce result in meetings happening late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.
Dr. Czeisler, a leading authority on human sleep cycles, says that to raise performance on the job, leaders should pay attention to the effects of sleep deprivation. This includes the consideration of:
1) creating a corporate sleep policy. There are policies for non-smoking and anti-discrimination. Why not have one for sleep?
*limiting scheduled work to no more than 12 hours a day with at least 11 consecutive hours of rest every 24 hours.
*Shift workers should not be permitted to work more than 4 or 5 consecutive days with at least one day off.
* For business travel: avoid taking red-eye flights and if overnight travel is required, a day should be given to adapt to sleep deprivation and a possible new time zone. If the meeting must be scheduled after an overnight flight, a taxi or car services should be arranged to prevent a sleep deprived worker from driving.
* provide an annual screening for sleep disorders to help identify those at high risk (i.e. narcolepsy)
* training for supervisors and managers in sleep and fatigue management
2) Educate employees: instead of creating a sleep-culture where those who work crazy hours are seen as heroes or martyrs, educate employees about the link between sleep, health, and workplace safety.
* sleeping in a darkened and quiet room free of electric devices.
* avoiding drinking alcohol before bed as it acts as a stimulant rather than a sleep-aid.
* avoiding drinking caffeine late in the day (after 4pm) as it lingers in the body for several hours.
* promoting regular exercise of at least 1.5 hours per week
* trying a sound machine with white noise to keep the brain focused on the task of sleeping.
* keeping a journal beside the bed to help you write down your thoughts that may be worrying you and keeping you from drifting off to sleep.
* contacting your doctor who can help diagnose the root cause of your sleep deprivation issues.
Employees are often kept awake by several issues that may not appear to be related to employees with sleep deficits, but upon closer examination, they uncover their co-relation. We have a host of resources to help employers provide current and relevant tips for employees on this topic. The following list is only a sample of what might be helpful to explore.
This topic will continue to cause challenges in the workplace. The more employers promote ways to address the issue, the more workers will be encouraged to make quality sleep a priority. I invite you to contact us. We have a dedicated and experienced team here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Back to school time is here. Whether or not you have school-aged kids of your own, there are several tips that can be applied to taking a more productive approach to work just as parents and students prepare for this academic transition.
Thinking about September can be an important way to reboot your attitude, confidence, and performance personally and professionally. While back to school can be a hurried time of adjustment for many working parents, it can also be a valuable contributor to the way employees approach work.
From an employers perspective, use this month to communicate just-in-time back to school reminders similar to the approach I've taken with the tips in this post.
1) Schedule that check up: Just as parents do before school starts, book an appointment now to get that physical or health assessment completed. Make sure health records and immunizations are up to date and take the time to address any brewing or acute health issues before they become a more chronic concern.
2) Update calendars: During the first few days of school, kids come home with calendars and material full of important information and events. Use this time to also update online work calendars with upcoming events, conferences, and planning for the milestones of key goals and team objectives. Block off time in your schedule to review emails you know you need to address. Now is a great time to update your files. Delete or shred information you no longer need and take an hour to organize your desk.
3) Establish healthy routines and use of electronic devices: Parents look to re-establish healthy routines for their kids particularly around bedtime and they also encourage them to put away electronic devices and read a book or play a quiet game. This approach can be modified for the workplace as well. When employees are sleep deprived, they aren't as productive, so providing tips to help them establish better sleep habits as well as being more mindful while on the job is key. Invite employees not to check email every time they hear the ding sound of an incoming email. When working on a project or important assignment, encourage them to stay focused and only check email at set times and avoid the distraction of whatever comes in through their email inbox.
4) Address ways to manage anxiety. With the start of the new school year, there is a tendency for kids to feel somewhat anxious about the unknown - new teachers, friends, courses, etc. Turning this scenario into a prompt for employees about the benefits they have including an Employee Assistance Program, Massage Therapy, financial counselling, nutrition sessions and other workplace resources is key. Stress levels tend to run higher the more employees have on their plate. Back to school transition adds another level of busyness, so provide reminders of the resources that are at their fingertips and particularly those that are free.
There is never a bad time to provide reminders that foster a productive and engaged workforce. The value in paying attention to seasonal calendars and events that affect the lives of your employees is helpful. Doing so may pay handsomely in terms of reduced absenteeism and increased employee engagement during a time when life seems to dial up its pace. We have a list of resources available to support you in this way. Please contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.