Best Company Perk: Gift of Time

By Ieva M. Augstums
The Dallas Morning News
Dallas - The gift of time off just may be the best company perk yet. At least, Rolando Alvarez thinks so.

The associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas was a bit shocked when he learned that his company was giving him - and everyone else in the firm across the country - 10 consecutive days off over the December holidays.

"It really caught me off guard," Alvarez said, recalling a companywide e-mail in mid-October that explained the end-of-the-year perk. "I work for the best company ever." The need to balance personal priorities - family, community and leisure activities - with daily workplace demands is stronger today than ever before. That's especially true of younger workers.


CHRISTINE SCHNEIDER/The Kansas City Star
Alvarez, 24, is among a generation of under-40 employees who have come to expect more from their employers. The problem is that they don't always get it.

"Generation X and Y want it all, and companies are starting to realize they need to listen," said Jim Bird, president and founder of WorkLifeBalance.com, a training and workplace development firm. "Companies need to realize that work-life balance is not a problem to be solved; it's an ongoing issue that needs to be managed."

A recent survey from staffing and recruiting firm Spherion Corp. indicates that many employers aren't taking the steps necessary to retain existing employees or attract top talent.

According to the study, one-third of workers ages 25 to 39 feel burned out by their jobs, and 28 percent of all workers say their employers expect them to stay connected to the office outside of normal office hours.

One of the biggest disconnects between employers and employees, the survey found, is the importance workers place on their ability to maintain balance between their professional and private lives.

"There is no question that companies more and more are realizing that work-life balance and worker-retention type of programs create good culture and are important," said John A. Challenger, chief executive of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. "Unfortunately, not every company out there is doing it."

But some consistently step up, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has been rated among the top companies for working mothers, diversity and overall workplace.

"Happier employees mean happier service," said Lisa Ong, the company's diversity leader in Dallas. "Let them have the time off. Let them come back in January recharged."

The tax advisory services firm may be onto something.

Average paid holiday/personal time - standard holidays, floating holidays, personal days and holiday shutdown days - among U.S. companies hasn't changed over the last five years. But experts say that it may, as more companies strive to help employees with work-life balance.

"Holidays usually don't increase, as they are traditionally pretty fixed," said Suzanne Zagata-Meraz, spokeswoman for Hewitt Associates, an employee benefits consulting firm. "Where you might see fluctuations would be on personal days."

Younger workers are more inclined than older workers to leave a job if their needs aren't met, experts say. Many will go to another company or even start their own businesses.

"There's huge competition for the best talent out there," Ong said. "If you are not a company with flexibility, you risk losing your best people, your best talent."

© The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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