I know I’m going to sound old, but—back in the day—employees received a paycheck and two weeks’ vacation. Maybe some healthcare. Usually some retirement, too. But that’s it.

Today, however, things are different. The economy is strong and U.S. unemployment is very low. Good workers are at a premium and small businesses can be at a disadvantage when competing against larger companies with deeper pockets. Not only that, but also there’s a new generation of workers—the millennials—who not only comprise about half of the U.S. workforce, but also appear to have different values and priorities when it comes to balancing work and personal lives. This generation, in survey after survey, wants more flexibility, mobility, independence and time off—in many cases, in lieu of higher compensation.

So, what kinds of benefits should an employer provide that will not only attract good workers but also keep their existing ones happy and motivated? Yes, the usual ones mentioned above are important. But paid time off (PTO) perks are the most attractive and I’ve seen a few ridiculous (and not so ridiculous) plans that companies are offering. Want some examples?

1. Pawternity

A handful of companies have taken maternity and paternity benefits for new parents to such an extreme (Netflix, for example, offers a year off), that you wonder where else is there to go? Oh, right. To the dogs. There’s no other way to describe this than to let it speak for itself: paid time off when you get a new puppy. I know…right?

But this perk has become increasingly popular, particularly with companies that employ dog-lovers. I will admit that getting and then house-training a new puppy can be exhausting, if not a little messy. So why not give your employees a few days away from the job to bond with their new dogs, so that they can return to the office without worrying that when they get home they’ll find a few unexpected presents waiting for them? “We offer maternity and paternity leave and a pet is just another member of the family,” a recruiter for data platform provider Mparticle told Business Insider. “We don’t discriminate just because they aren’t human.”

2. Unsick Days

Firms like Zocdoc, Foursquare, and Greenhouse have joined with others to start a campaign called the Unsick Day that encourages companies to offer a day off for sickness—even when the employee isn’t sick.

The objective is to encourage workers to visit their doctors and dentists for scheduled checkups in order to avoid potential sick days in the future. It sounds a little ridiculous but, then again, we all have busy schedules and many of us prioritize other things than “planning” to be sick, or scheduling regular maintenance visits. And who knows? The right preventative care may save on future health costs as well.

3. Unlimited Vacation Days

Tech companies from GitHub to LinkedIn (and even accounting firms like Grant Thornton) offer unlimited vacation plans (and I’m curious how the accountants at Grant Thornton figure out their vacation liability at the end of the year with this kind of perk).

The benefit has raised eyebrows, and most of the companies I work with laugh at the thought. A growing number of companies are reconsidering the policy because it’s actually making their employees more stressed about how much and when to take their time off. So tread down the unlimited vacation road carefully—it may sound a little too good to be true, mostly because it is.

4. Days Off for Charity

This…is not a ridiculous perk. In fact, many millennials say that they prefer working for a company that is socially conscious and that gives back to their community.

So what better way to demonstrate this than to offer your employees a day or two off to spend working with a charity of their choice? Salesforce.com gives up to six days every year to employees for charitable work and also donates $1,000 to a charity of their choice. I’m not saying your company has to go to such extremes, but it’s not a bad idea, and can certainly differentiate you from the competitor down the street when you’re recruiting workers.

5. Sabbaticals

Also not a ridiculous perk.

Many firms are offering employees up to three months of paid time off every five years or so to do something completely unrelated to work. Avoiding burnout, putting things into perspective, and living a fuller life can make for a better person and a more productive employee. Once you’ve found someone who’s not only good but also is committed to your business, you should consider offering this type of perk to keep them fresh, happy and loyal.

Are these all ridiculous PTO perks? A few—I believe—are a little over the top. C’mon…pawternity?

But, in the end, giving your employees flexibility, balance, and time to enjoy their lives and their families will mean that they are more inclined to stay with your firm and work harder toward your objectives. Happiness really can mean profitability, and if offering a few extra days off a year is what it takes to achieve that goal, then bring on the puppies!

4 Responses to "5 Ridiculous (And Not So Ridiculous) PTO Ideas You Should Probably Consider for Your Employees"

    • Charlene Kennedy | September 20, 2018 at 9:05 am

      My dad worked for a company who after 15 years gave the employees every few years 3 months off with pay. They went out of business. Just sayin’.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 20, 2018 at 2:50 pm

        Thanks for your feedback, Charlene.

    • Mark Golden | September 20, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      For many years, we have quietly offered our key people unlimited time off. It has allowed such individuals to take extended vacations to Europe and Asia. Surprisingly they end up taking little more time off than the rest of the employees because they are conscientious and don’t want to be unfair to their co-workers. On the other hand, it kept one of my key people around for several years longer as she was prepared to quit her job to take the extended vacation.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 20, 2018 at 2:53 pm

        Great insight, Mark.

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