Earlier this year Jaclyn Pickard went to Costa Rica and snorkeled, visited cocoa farms and rafted 18 miles down the Pancuare River. Her colleague, Lauren Wiper, went to Italy with her sister for 10 days, hiking in the Cinque Terre, wine tasting in the Piedmont and visiting friends in Milan.
Karlis Lauva backpacked through southern France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. David Fitzgerald bought a bike and rode around Colorado for two weeks following the USA Procycling Challenge.
Their boss, Bart Lorang, went to Bora Bora for his honeymoon.
And their company, FullContact, a high-tech firm in Denver, paid for it all.
It’s called the Paid Paid Vacation. All you have to do is promise not to check work e-mails, texts or calls, to totally unplug, and the company will pay you $7,500 every year to go on vacation, in addition to drawing your full salary.
“We are all really passionate about technology, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone’s dream is to just have a job,” said communications director Brad McCarty. “You’re not going to remember the 20 extra hours you put in every week when you’re 90. But you will remember the trip to Venice.”
You can go for as long as you’d like. The company, which organizes peoples’ contacts and stores them on the cloud, has an open vacation policy. “The standard rule is, don’t screw over your team,” McCarty said.
(The standard for most American workers: as the only advanced economy with no national paid vacation policy, one-fourth of all U.S. workers have no paid vacation. Those that do tend to get 10 to 14 days, say they feel too guilty or busy to take them all, and, when they do take off, often take work along or check work e-mails and texts regularly, prompting the travel industry to dub the United States the “No Vacation Nation.“)
Perks like the Paid Paid Vacation landed the company at No. 61 on Outside Magazine’s recently released 2014 100 Best Places to Work list. Outdoor clothing company Patagonia, with its famous “Let My People Go Surfing” motto, came in at No. 94. And at No. 1, Seeley Lake Elementary in Montana, which stores bikes, Nordic skis and showshoes for both students and staff and closes early on Thursdays, the better for everyone to get a start on an outdoor weekend.
As worker well-being, work-life balance, mindfulness classes and even happiness ratings are gaining traction in corporate America, FullContact’s Paid Paid Vacation originated about two years ago, McCarty said, when Lorang traveled to Egypt with his then-financee and someone snapped a photo of him, on a camel, at the pyramids, with his head down staring at his smartphone, checking his e-mail.
It was one of those light bulb moments, McCarty said. “Bart said, ‘this is just ludicrous. If I don’t pull myself away and force myself to have a life, then what am I working for?’”
Now, McCarty said, just about every one of the 41 employees at the four-year-old firm has taken a Paid Paid Vacation. FullContact, which now tracks about 1.3 billion contacts, or 20 percent of the world’s population, views the Paid Paid Vacation as a way to attract and retain top talent in the highly competitive tech world.
“The cost is actually pretty minimal. It’s not at all uncommon to see $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 bonuses paid for people to come to work at tech companies,” McCarty said. “For us, whatever your salary is, add $7,500 to it every year. That’s a great retention tool for us.”
As are the powder days – meaning, when the snow has dumped and you’re itching to ski, go for it and take a paid day off. Or in McCarty’s case, since he works remotely out of Nashville, when spring fever hits, the hiking begins.
“It’s worked incredibly well,” he said. “The really big names in tech all focus on the same idea, that employee happiness has to come before everything else. While it’s really difficult to measure that return on investment from a dollar standpoint, it’s not difficult to measure what happens when someone returns from a Paid Paid Vacation: you see, without fail, people shining brighter, working harder and more excited to get back into the swing of things.”
And if someone doesn’t unplug on the Paid Paid Vacation?
“If you are on the grid and working and get caught, you have to pay it back. That’s the agreement,” McCarty said. “But so far, no one’s had to.”
McCarty said he hadn’t taken vacation for five years himself before coming to FullContact. Since then, he’s taken a Paid Paid Vacation and gone with his wife and two kids to Disney World for two weeks and spent a long weekend in the Smoky Mountains with his wife, he said.