Economic Development and Human Resources

Firms mull unlimited time off as benefit

April 8, 2016
Text Size:

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Imagine what would happen if a company gave everyone unlimited, paid time off.

Whether your reaction is negative or positive basically reflects how people are split over the unique policy that Cinnaire, a Lansing-based community development finance institute, launched this year.

The aptly named Unlimited Paid Time Off policy has been experimented with in larger corporations: Employees get unlimited paid time off as long as they stick to their goals and get their work done. Cinnaire is one of the few companies — maybe the only one — in Michigan that’s giving the policy a try.

Netflix was one of the first companies to implement the concept, which has been met with mixed responses from professionals, said Mark McDaniel, president and CEO of Cinnaire.

Cinnaire, which McDaniel founded 23 years ago, is no stranger to West Michigan. He said his company has invested more than $200 million in the Grand Rapids area, creating 1,700 affordable housing units and more than 2,000 jobs since its inception. 

The decision to start the unlimited time-off policy, which went into effect March 1, took a serious amount of thought, McDaniel said. Even he was skeptical at first, but he’s seen positive results.

“I read about this emerging idea of unlimited time off about two years ago. When I first read it, I thought you’d have to be nuts to do that. People would abuse it,” he said. “But then as I started looking at people’s comments, the message is, ‘We trust you, we value you and we’re very goal-orientated.’”

In fact, part of the reason McDaniel made the decision was because he felt Cinnaire’s culture fit the goal-orientated model. The policy came out of the Silicon Valley-style of work culture, he said. Although only about 1 percent of companies in America have an unlimited paid time-off policy, most of the ones implementing it are IT companies, he said, explaining that IT is very goal orientated.

Cinnaire initially was created for the purpose of raising funds for affordable housing, but since has grown into a more holistic community developer that provides financial resources to invest in neighborhood and downtown revitalizations, real estate, affordable housing and economic development, he said.

That kind of mission doesn’t just create goal-orientated professionals; it also creates a close-knit and engaged staff, he said — one the leadership listened to after receiving positive feedback about this kind of policy. 

“(Part) of the culture here is we’re very engaged with our staff in trying to produce a work culture and work environment that meets everybody’s needs. … We’ve attracted very professional, committed passionate people because of the kind of work we do and the impact we’re making,” he said. 

“When we have that kind of culture, we want to send a message to them to show how valuable they are. Today’s environment is more of that IT, intelligence (focus). There’s a different way you have to look at your staff.” 

McDaniel said he’s positive his staff won’t abuse the policy for two reasons — the first of which is because of who they are. 

Cinnaire has 88 full-time employees, mostly split between younger millennials and older employees, many of whom have been there for 15 to 20 years, thanks to a low turnover rate, he said. Such a policy is more favorable to a growing millennial workforce, he said, particularly when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. 

“We’re going through that transition as a company — the tipping point where we may actually have more young people than older — but it’s pretty balanced between the two, and that’s been the last four, five years,” he said. 

“It’s very effective in retention and attraction — another thing we looked at. And we made some conscious hiring decisions. We’ve hired a number of people in the last couple of months and they’ve done their research on us and they’ve seen this, and it was something that was very attractive for them. … It was in the middle of February we announced it. As we were interviewing people beforehand, we told them it was something we were going to do.” 

The second reason McDaniel thinks the time-off policy will work is the nature of the policy. Not only does it mean managers and employees will work more closely to sort out goals and time off, but why should people feel they can’t invest in their personal time if the work is getting done? he asked. 

“We have very high performance standards that could be measured. … If you’re a performance-based organization, then everyone has goals to meet throughout the year,” he said. “Those goals are easy to track, and if people are meeting their goals and the organization is doing well, I don’t see why you have to limit them. Let them deal with their families, their health issues.” 

Health issues is another reason McDaniel likes the policy. It takes the issue of sick time off the table for employees who need it, especially for anyone with a long-term disability. 

“One of the things that came up in the surveys (was) a lot of desire for the men to have time off when they have a baby. … We have maternity leave, but paternity leave is something a lot of companies need to figure out. By doing this, we’ve just given all the fathers paternity leave.” 

Kym Hess, human resources business partner with HR Collaborative, said she’s been hearing about the unlimited paid time-off policy more frequently, although West Michigan’s conservative culture means companies are looking for other ways to create attraction and retention without such an open-ended policy, she said. 

Although she agreed with many of the pros McDaniel mentioned, Hess said ultimately she wouldn’t recommend such a policy. Hess raised the concern about the policy leading to employers creating so many goals that employees might actually have less time off. 

“Sometimes having unlimited vacation will actually mean people won’t take as much time off because they have to get more done: ‘I know I have all this time off, but I have all this work load and I can’t get it done,’” she said. “The reality is they never can take that much time off because they’re too busy. … They just have too many goals.” 

But what the policy does is show that employees want more options when it comes to time management, Hess said. Experienced professionals don’t want to have to wait to get time off. 

“Companies used to make you wait for one whole year before taking time off, and now we’re seeing accruing happens a lot faster upon hiring.”

Recent Articles by Mike Nichols

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus