Recognise This! – The best laid reward schemes of mice and HR Pros go often awry. (With a nod to Robert Burns)

What employee recognition or reward programme have you put in place that you later regretted? Would unlimited vacation or paid time-off (PTO) make that list?

During the last year or two, I’ve seen many articles talking about the benefits of unlimited vacation. On the surface, this seems quite a progressive approach. But does it really work in practice?

I polled my team of consultants to see what they thought about it. Interestingly, one team member came to us from a company that offered unlimited vacation as a benefit. But she didn’t experience it as a benefit.

How could the freedom to take vacation time when you need it without question, whether for an extended trip away or for your child’s after school play, ever be perceived negatively? There are three distinct factors at play:

  1. You work so many extra hours anyway, you’re not really taking much extra time off.
  2. Sure, you can take as much vacation as you want, but you better be “connected” and checking in regularly.
  3. The “policy” says you can take unlimited vacation, but the culture holds strongly against it.

Lance Haun spoke to this in TLNT a year ago, commenting:

“And that really helps you take ‘unlimited’ vacation policies with a grain of salt. How employers expect you to work normally, how you work whilst on ‘vacation,’ and the peer culture that often dictates what the vacation norm would be, are really the determining factors in play.”

It’s that third factor my team member found most compelling in her prior organisation. The culture was very much one of nose-to-the-grindstone. Anyone perceived as taking too much time off was instantly branded a slacker. Sure people still did take vacation, but it was with an air of apology to their coworkers.

All Recognition & Reward Programmes MUST Consider Culture

And that’s the real point here. No matter how well intentioned – or how well planned – no recognition or reward programme will be successful if you don’t take into account your culture. Truly strategic and social recognition programmes are, indeed, designed as change agents for organisation culture.