Palm trees and sunny skies may be one of the furthest things from your mind when you’re at work, but the topic of vacation, and its benefits, is an important one for both business owners and employees. Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz about the trend of “unlimited vacation” policies, where companies allow employees to take paid time-off at their own discretion without tracking it.

While this approach may work in certain industries, it’s much more difficult to institute at an HVAC company where technicians are paid on an hourly basis. Yet, as the millennial generation continues to join the workforce, the trend toward more flexible time-off policies and benefits is expected to continue.

According to Bill Kinnard, president and owner of Grandy & Associates, Green Bay, Wisconsin, HVAC contractors need to recognize millennial employees often desire more of a work-life balance.

“Many contractors are very frustrated, wishing millennials would learn the same work ethics their predecessors had. As a result, they’ll remain frustrated,” Kinnard said. “The workforce is changing, and contractors need to embrace this and recognize that if they don’t adapt, they will only continue to have problems.”

While it may not be common yet in the HVAC industry, some HVAC contractors are taking the leap and changing their vacation and benefits policies with the goal of attracting — and retaining — top industry talent.

New Approach to Vacation

The benefits of vacation have been documented in a variety of studies over the years. According to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a large majority of human resource (HR) professionals believe taking vacation is extremely important. Workforce factors, such as performance, morale, wellness, productivity, and retention, benefit when vacation is utilized, according to the survey.

At We Care Plumbing, Heating & Air, Murrieta, California, owner Rusty Cochran is very attuned to employee morale, and he has worked hard to foster a company culture that encourages achievement while also being a fun place to work. At We Care’s office, cowbells ring every time an employee sells a maintenance agreement, and the all-hands-on-deck meetings include silly games and giveaways like iPads and TVs. Cochran also pays for employees to attend adventurous leadership training and team-building classes.

We Care offers hourly employees one week of vacation and salaried employees receive two weeks. All employees are granted three paid sick days per year.

Cochran rolled out a new initiative to motivate and empower his employees by giving them a chance to earn more paid vacation days. In 2015, hourly employees will also have the chance to earn up to an extra week of vacation.

“It’s something new we rolled out,” Cochran said. “They can get an extra week of vacation, but only if we meet our budget each month for the course of the whole year.”

According to Cochran, “The point for us is to reach our weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.”

We Care believes in being transparent with company numbers and goals and shares these figures with employees at the all-hands-on-deck bimonthly meetings. Tying into the larger company goals, every department and each person must also set weekly goals. And, if these goals are reached by the end of the month, hourly employees will accrue additional hours of paid vacation time and bonuses.

“They get a monthly bonus if the budget is 5 percent over what we projected, and they will receive the accrued vacation hours for the month if we are 5 percent over the budget,” Cochran explained. “In order to get the extra vacation days, the entire company has to hit it — it’s all for one. We could go 12-for-12, which would be awesome, but, if we fall short a month or two, they will still receive the bonus plus the vacation time for the months we exceeded the target.”

While the extra vacation initiative is still too new to gauge its effect, Cochran believes it fits in well with his company’s overall focus on people. “I’m blessed to have more than 100 employees and have such a neat culture where we’re close and care for each other,” he said.

Unlimited Potential

Corey Hickmann is another HVAC contractor who decided to change his vacation policy this year. As president and owner of Comfort Matters Heating & Cooling, Hanover, Minnesota, Hickmann said he has observed a growing desire for family time. “In the 25- to 35-year-old age group, time off seems to be much more valuable to them than the age group I came from,” he said.

He explained that Comfort Matters used to require one year of experience before giving employees one week of vacation, and after the first year they accrued one day per year. This year, Comfort Matters increased its paid-time-off policy to give one week off for the first year of service, two weeks for the second year, and three weeks after three years. Plus, the company instituted a novel policy offering unlimited time off for mission trips.

Hickmann admitted that when he asked his HR company to add this policy to the company handbook, they said they’d never written anything like that before. While he acknowledged there are risks to offering unlimited time off, he noted such mission trips must be approved by management and must be performed through a charitable organization. After completing a mission trip, the employee will be required to report back to the company on his or her experience and raise awareness for the cause served.

Hickmann and his wife, Amy, both believe strongly in giving back and hope enabling their employees to give back will provide an amazing way for their company to help a lot of other people.

“If you only have two weeks of vacation, that could hold you back,” Hickmann said. But, now, Comfort Matters’ employees can do anything from “volunteer if there’s a hurricane in New Orleans, go work at a food shelter for a day, or go to Africa for two weeks — and we’re going to pay them.”

Of course, there will be factors such as busy season that will affect when and how employees can take advantage of this policy, which is why all mission trip plans must be ultimately approved by Hickmann. Yet, overall, Hickmann believes this policy should help his company attract the types of employee he wants to hire. He has an aggressive growth plan for the next five years, and this benefit will hopefully aid in his desire to hire people with strong values.

“You’re influenced by the people who surround you,” Hickmann said. “So, we are targeting the people who also believe strongly in giving back.”

Benefitting from Benefits

While many may be slow to adapt their vacation policies, it’s clear that progressive contractors believe their companies have a lot to gain by reaching out with new ideas to attract and retain good workers. And, innovative vacation and time-off policies have the potential to reel in new employees while motivating long-time staff.

SIDEBAR: Owners Need Breaks, Too

Not only do employees need vacation, but owners do, too. According to Bill Kinnard, president and owner of Grandy & Associates, Green Bay, Wisconsin, “If [owners] are burned out, they can’t get their team’s excited.”

Rich Imfeld, president of IC Refrigeration Inc., Ceres, California, is one contractor who recognizes the value of taking time away. “I don’t have a problem going on vacation,” Imfeld said. “If you can’t delegate or trust your people, I can see how vacation could be problematic.”

Imfeld does have the benefit of working at a well-established business. IC Refrigeration, which was founded by Imfeld’s grandfather, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Yet, any business owner can set in place the systems and procedures that will allow the leader to leave without the workplace falling apart.

“The leader must put systems in place so that when things happen, all team members know exactly how to respond — every time,” Kinnard said. “Then, when it is practiced, you can test it by being away for a time.”

Imfeld’s last vacation was in October, when he went fly fishing in Montana, and he has a vacation bucket list that includes places like the Galapagos Islands and Iguazu Falls.

“I came to the realization long ago that I don’t want to be the guy in a walker, with brown shoes, socks, and blue shorts looking at the Tower of London for the first time. I want to be young enough to enjoy it,” he said.

Publication date: 5/11/2015

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