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Do You Care More About Vacation Policies -- or Your People? Three signs that your time-off policy isn't working.

By Matt Straz Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Human resources policies -- when used as a force for good -- are the glue that holds workplaces together. But when rules are enforced without regard for the people who make up the company, that's a problem.

Related: Is 'Paid Time-Off' Actually Possible?

In fact, rules enforcement can create a rigid environment where employees feel uncomfortable and undervalued -- especially when it comes to policies like paid time off. When dealing with employees' valuable personal time, then, HR should build in flexibility; it can make the difference between high turnover rate versus high employee satisfaction.

So, be honest when you take a look at other companies' paid time-off policies: While they may work for those companies, are they really the best for your employees?

Here are a few signs that an HR policy, including time off, isn't focused on people -- and how to turn that around:

1. It focuses too much on time.

Paid time off is meant to give employees a break. But when employers focus solely on how much time employees spend inside the office, that purpose shifts.

Certainly, tallying when salaried employees take personal or sick time is important -- and a great HR platform can help you easily do that. But when this exercise becomes a game of tallying up every hour of every half-day doctor's visit, that paid time off (PTO) policy becomes about the employer, not the employee.

And employees notice when their culture is more focused on the business, not them. According to a survey of more than 800 full-time U.S. employees conducted by Globoforce in November last year, 47 percent of those surveyed said they didn't think their company leaders cared about or actively tried to create a "human" workplace.

Employees in that type of working environment feel the pressure to stay in the office. Although they are allotted a certain amount of PTO or sick time, they feel that taking that time will reflect negatively on them.

As an employer trying to build an employee-focused workplace, you need to focus on what employees get done, not how much time they spend in the office. Create a more fluid working culture that allows employees to work where and when they accomplish the most.

That's a win-win. When employees don't feel tied down to the office, they can be more productive. And when they get more done and don't feel that they have to be on the premises, they feel that they can actually take the time off they need.

Policies that center on making work better for employees make them feel respected, allowing them to make the most of their time in the office.

Related: Why Generous Paid Time Off Policies Pay Off for Employers

2. It isn't built on trust.

Adopting flexible paid time-off policies and a fluid working culture requires trust between employers and employees. But many employers don't fully trust their employees to not abuse these policies.

So, they take a more elementary approach to PTO. Employees who take a sick day always need a doctor's note. Or, worse, further documentation is required for unannounced absences, like family emergencies.

But strict policies show employees they aren't trusted; and upholding them and enforcing them becomes more important than the employees themselves. Yet that doesn't work, because trust is a two-way street. If employers don't have confidence in their employees, chances are employees feel the same way: In a 2015 survey of close to 800 North American employees conducted by Achievers, just 45 percent of those surveyed said they didn't trust company leadership.

Employers should use their PTO and leave policies to show employees they matter and are trusted. Give employees the time they need while still appropriately tracking their time off. Don't overstep and ask for detailed explanations. Don't make employees feel that they're under a microscope.

If PTO becomes a problem, and an employee does abuse the policy, address it. Talk to this individual, explain the problem you see, and let him or her know that that use of PTO isn't appropriate. The key here is communication.

3. It doesn't respect personal lives.

Whether or not you believe work-life balance is attainable, the best company cultures welcome employees to be themselves -- which includes the personal time they regularly need outside the office. Unfortunately, with some companies, that time seems to continually shrink.

In fact, the Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index Survey conducted in May 2015 found that about a quarter of the 2,062 employees surveyed regularly worked after the standard workday was done, and about four out of 10 worked on weekends at least once a month.

In addition, a survey by Workplace Trends, of 1,087 employees and 116 HR professionals, released in February 2015, found that 65 percent of employees said their managers expected them to be reachable outside of the office.

Technology has blurred the lines between personal and professional lives. Employees answer emails, take calls and complete work on the go, at home and even during paid time off.

And that's a problem. If employees are always connected to work, the purpose of PTO is defeated Create policies that empower employees to draw a line between their personal and professional lives. Set on and off hours when managers shouldn't expect to reach employees. And work with teams, to keep any communication with those on vacation to a minimum. This will help employees truly relax on their breaks, not feel pressure to keep working.

Related: Which Countries Get the Most Paid Time Off? (Infographic)

Use policies to build a culture in which employees and employers respect one other's time. That way, professional and personal lives can blend and work together when that needs to happen.

Matt Straz

Founder and CEO of Namely

Matt Straz is the founder and CEO of Namely, the HR and payroll platform for the world's most exciting companies.

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