by Meg Crosby
Millennials are a hot commodity as cities across the country, including Memphis, compete to attract lifeblood in the form of bright young talent. Local business leaders frequently ask me what they can do to entice young employees. My response: Loosen up on your paid time off policy.
Here’s the deal. According to Maude Standish of Tarot, a Millennial trend insight company, the ultimate luxury for this generation is having a unique experience. Travel, technology, and the sharing economy have removed barriers to access the farthest reaches of the globe. If they can dream it, they can do it. No longer will piling in the station wagon and driving to the nearest Gulf Coast beach suffice for these intellectually curious, connected, and socially conscious young adults. They are much more interested in hiking Machu Picchu, taking an eco-tour of the Amazon rain forest via zip line, or building water wells in sub-Saharan Africa.
It is very difficult for some of us GenXers and Boomers to see beyond the traditional two-week vacation policy that has existed since the beginning of time. But see beyond it, we must. For companies who are squarely in the knowledge economy — meaning that their employees’ brains are their greatest assets — winning the war on talent is a huge competitive advantage. It might sound strange, but re-thinking your PTO policy might lead to dramatic improvements in employee productivity, innovation, and retention.
First, our brains are overloaded and need a break. Never before in history have humans processed so much information on a daily basis. According to Tom Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, “People are working so many hours that not only in most cases do they not have more hours they could work, but there’s also strong evidence to suggest that when they work for too long they get diminishing returns.”
Scientific American reports, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to achieve our highest levels of performance.”
And I don’t know about you, but I see a spike in my productivity in preparation for leaving for vacation — finishing projects, clearing off my desk, tying up loose ends, and completing tasks before I leave.
Time out from the daily grind is also important for reflection and insight. It is no coincidence that January and August are the months our company sees the highest number of inbound calls for consulting services. Our clients that take vacation over the summer or over the holidays have the time away from the day-to-day issues in the business to step back and reflect on the business as a whole and come back refreshed and ready to engage on meaty strategic issues. Tim Krieder writes in The New York Times, “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections.” These unexpected connections lead to learning and innovation.
And finally, and perhaps most compelling, employees know it when they have a good thing. The Times reported on a study by Ernst & Young of its employees. They found that employees who took more vacation had higher performance rankings and were more likely to stay with the firm longer.
If you are still not convinced, consider this: Millennials lead what researchers call a “blended life.” Or, stated another way, these digital natives sleep with their phones. Where the GenXers once pleaded for work/life balance, the Millennials are content to blur the lines between work and life 24/7. This means that even while hiking Machu Picchu, your Millennial employee will take time out to answer your important work question and post a selfie. Everybody wins!
Meg Crosby is a principal with PeopleCap Advisors.
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