Taking the day off… kind of

Elvis once sang the words “A little less conversation, a little more action please”. One interpretation of this is you need to do more than just talk a good game. This is a quick story about a company that doesn’t deliver on their “conversation”.   

A friend and I caught up via an online meeting the other day and the topic of taking a day off came up. I work for myself and can technically take as much time off as I want, but I usually end up working 7 days a week. That’s ok, because it’s an expectation when you have your own business. The person I was talking to doesn’t work for themselves, and told me they scheduled a day off. They were worn out, and wanted (more accurately needed) a long weekend with family. Plus, they had so much time “banked” that if they didn’t take a day off, they would lose it by the end of the year… employees of companies often are allotted so many hours to “roll over” – it’s known as “use it or lose it”, and they were tired of “losing it” every year.

Not Elvis

Here’s the rub, in order to take a day off, they have to work 16 hours the day before or extra time several days prior to assure they don’t fall behind on their work. The generous company they work for also allows an alternative, to make up the time… actually the work, on the weekend. Because as we all know, the work doesn’t stop coming when someone takes a day off. This has become an unwritten rule with many companies, and in my many years of experience I learned that this kind of behavior tells you a lot about an organization that operates this way. This is even more problematic in a tight labor market like we have now, which allows companies to use their position of power to take advantage of desperate people. Say it isn’t so!

For the record, my friend is a conscientious person, not someone who would leave their workmates hanging. So, the debate becomes, should people feel “entitled” to use their time off?

In my book, Sometimes You Have To Eat A Crap Sandwich, I talk about companies and leaders who interpret PTO as “Pretend” Time Off, instead of “Planned” Time Off. They also consider working during time away from the office as a badge of honor. My friend wasn’t looking to wear any badge, rather they wanted to spend an uninterrupted quality day with their family – is that too much to ask? Some companies think it is, and if you want to keep your job, get in line and do as they say… well, not what they say publicly, but what they say behind closed doors… and get your work done – all of your work!   

Here’s what I know – if a company is well managed and staffed correctly, a person should be able to take a day off without feeling like the sword of Damocles is hanging over their head. Putting the burden on an individual to feel like they have to work, even during a vacation day is cruel, and can make a person already on the edge of burnout even more stressed. No one wants to be punished with a pile of work upon their return for having the gall to take a day off.

Ironically, the company my friend works for proudly touts their generous PTO policy as a perk in all their job postings. Instead of offering 5 weeks of PTO, they should say they allow you to swap out a weekday of work for a weekend day, or on occasion will allow you to work a 16-hour day to take a different day off. Is it really paid time if there isn’t technically any time off?  Not really a question as I know the answer.

The other amusing thing is how proud this company (and others) seem to be about their value set (I don’t know if they literally call it value set, but it’s some altruistic name like that).  Things like being ethical, embracing and championing equality, offering work-life balance, etc. I’m afraid we’ve become too accepting of how meaningless these “values” really are.

…   I’m pretty sure everyone knows these values are not to be taken as literally, rather they are meant to be aspirational. Actually, I’m not sure aspirational is correct either, as companies aren’t really aspiring to embody these values, they just like saying they have them, whether they actually do or not. It’s pure marketing and brand management, not reality. Maybe I will start a company that evaluates and rates how true companies are to the values they represent to the public. I wonder how many would receive a passing grade?

Back to the PTO question – another topic I ponder in my book Sometimes You Have To Eat A Crap Sandwich (now available on Amazon, Apple and B&N  : ) is how companies can and do take advantage of exempt (salaried) employees. I wonder how much extra time they would ask an hourly employee to work knowing they would have to pay them 1.5X their rate? Maybe this isn’t an issue because the hourly employee is typically paid less than an exempt employee. The real question is how many more hours would they ask an exempt employee to work if they had to pay them 1.5X their average hourly rate?  I kind of know the answer because I worked at a company that had highly paid hourly employees, and the rule was to never give them overtime, but to assign work to an exempt employee instead. This practice hardly fit with the company’s value of “principled”.

I would challenge companies that take advantage of employees to practice more of what they preach. The good news is many companies actually work hard to embody their values – to them I will quote Elvis again to say thank you, thank you very much.

BTW, the picture has nothing to do with the story other than a friend used to have a horse named Elvis – this isn’t that horse, but it reminded me of him.