When Alison King first heard about companies encouraging their work-from-home staff to take “workcations,” she knew it was something she wanted to implement at her public relations firm.
The president of Toronto-based Media Profile could see the benefit of these remote-working “holidays” to promote better work-life balance among her employees and wanted to encourage it. So she started a program called Work From Anywhere, which gives employees up to $3,000 for travel expenses for up to one month.
In an increasingly competitive labour market when many Canadians are considering leaving their jobs, it may be the advantage Ms. King needs to attract and retain talent, especially in the younger cohort of workers.
“It’s a really competitive marketplace right now in terms of agencies looking for people,” she says.
A survey from the travel search engine Kayak shows 38 per cent of Gen Z employees, at the age of 18 to 24, plan to take a workcation in 2022, compared to 27 per cent of employed Canadians in general. “It’s a cohort that has it figured out in terms of wanting balance in their lives,” Ms. King says of Gen Z employees.
In a typical workcation, employees are paid their regular wages, and the time away doesn’t count against their vacation allotment. It’s essentially remote work but in a location different from an employee’s home.
Ms. King says her HR team has already noticed the benefits since launching the program in November, and that candidates’ “jaws drop” when they learn about it. “In my 30 years, I’ve never launched any kind of a perk or a benefit that got this kind of excitement.”
She says the public relations industry typically sees a higher rate of turnover, but at her company fewer staff members leave to work for competitors thanks to her company’s long history of offering work-life benefits, including working from home on Fridays, which was introduced in 2000.
Stephanie Kesler, a Toronto-based account director at Media Profile, was an early adopter of the workcation before the program began. She spent two months toward the end of last fall at a friend’s home in Calgary.
“I worked 7-3 Calgary time on weekdays, and then on the weekends, we would ski, snowshoe, skate,” Ms. Kesler says. She’s now planning to use the new benefit at the end of the summer to visit Italy or Croatia, and says having the benefit makes her want to stay with the company longer.
“When I told my friends about it, I had a million DMs from people asking, ‘Are you guys hiring?’”
Karen Hsiung, a partner at the independent recruiting firm Four Corners Group, says improving benefits is one way companies can address difficulties in attracting and retaining staff.
“Candidates have come to expect a certain standard for benefits – your medical, dental, vision, there could be some insurance or pension benefits,” Ms. Hsiung said. “But then there are other components that they may have not been thinking of which really is attractive for them.”
Leadership coaching, wealth planning and even pet insurance are some modern benefits that Ms. Hsiung has seen companies offer in recent years. She sees a working vacation benefit as “a fantastic expression of employee care.”
Organizations can also target their benefits to reflect their company ethos culture, Ms. Hsiung says. For example, a company that is focused on impact in the community can provide paid time off for volunteering or charity donation matches.
Like the switch to remote working, encouraging workcations could make some managers and employers nervous about keeping productivity rates up. Ms. Kesler says most of her colleagues forgot she was away because she continued to complete tasks and everyone was working remotely already.
Similar to when Media Profile’s work-from-home days were launched, Ms. King believes her staff is motivated to keep flexible workplace benefits.
“[Employees] have some responsibility to make this work,” she said. “If a couple of people mess it up, it’s going to be taken away. So people are thinking, I’m going to make this work, and I’m not going to let my team down.”
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