Time out Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

Time off used to be preprogrammed into the business world. You had to work for a year before getting a week off, and you usually received a few sick or personal days, as well.

The evolving workplace, with the never-ending search for talent and the greater expectations of Generation X, has meant that companies have gotten creative with their time-off policies. Generous vacation packages and flex time are now becoming standard, and smart companies realize this is a bargaining chip to attract and keep employees.

Take, for example, Buck & Pulleyn, a Rochester, N.Y.-based advertising firm. It has 35 full-time employees and 10 free-lancers. You would expect the standard vacation package for such a small company, right? Wrong.

Employees receive two weeks vacation each calendar year the day they start. If they start in the middle of the year, they receive a pro-rated number of days. For each year they are with the company, employees are awarded an extra day off, up to a maximum of 25 total days.

But that's not all. Employees can also opt to purchase up to five additional days off through the company's cafeteria benefits plan. Days purchased through the cafeteria plan are bought at the employee's salary rate for a day's pay, but with pre-tax dollars.

The really innovative part of the plan is the company's policy toward sick time.

"We don't have a policy," says Roxanne Barrett, the company's CFO. "We don't have any such thing as a number of sick days. If you're healthy, we expect you to come to work. If you're not, we expect you to stay home. We leave it at the discretion of the employee."

The policy, or lack thereof, carries over into other personal time.

"You can take time off when you need to," says Barrett. "In the ad industry, our employees can put in some long, hard days. This is our way of paying back some of that. It allows them to take time to deal with family and personal issues. They can go to a play at their child's school or deal with some other issue.

"It doesn't have to be a crisis."

Employees are in charge of themselves, so no work gets done and people abusing the system have to be policed, right?

Wrong.

"It's never happened," says Barrett. "It's never been a problem. There's just enough pressure from the other employees that people are careful on how they use it. It's really self policing."

The time-off policy didn't emerge from a revamping of archaic vacation rules, either -- it's been in place since the company was founded 18 years ago.

While the company doesn't analyze how much money the program costs, Barrett is sure it gets back any actual cost in the form of loyalty and employees who are willing to put in extra time and effort to make sure projects get done.

"Whether they have a death in the family or the death of a family pet, we assume they may need time to deal with it," says Barrett. "We let them know that it's OK for them to take it.

"We don't try to make them feel guilty for dealing with the issues in their lives, regardless of whether it is a celebration, crisis or moment of sadness." How to reach: Buck & Pulleyn, www.pulleyn.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.