October 28, 2021

Grant Thornton Should Pay Its People to Take Vacation

Grant Thornton is getting into the surprisingly generous benefits act, announcing that it will offer its employees unlimited time off starting in November.

They even shot this video of their people's reactions to the news:

Those people seem genuinely surprised. That's kinda nice.

Few companies offer unlimited PTO; this Bloomberg report says fewer than 1% of companies provide it. The story also reports that this is the more generous time-off than the Big 4:

Among the so-called Big 4 accounting firms, KPMG LLP offers a maximum of 30 days, Deloitte LLP has a maximum 35 days and PwC has a maximum of 22 for management level staff, according to the companies. EY has a minimum of 15 days with additional days added with years of service, according to a description of the policy on the company Web site.

Richard Branson was one of the first notable business leaders to embrace unlimited PTO when he announced it for his companies last fall and many companies followed suit.

But will it work? The same Bloomberg piece notes that Kickstarter pulled back from unlimited PTO to a maximum of 25 days. Why? Paradoxically, it results in people taking fewer days off. The founder of Triggertrap, Haje Jan Kamps, wrote about that exact result last year on Medium:

Because we weren’t explicitly tracking, people felt guilty about taking time off. It also turns out that there was a difference in the patterns for how people took time off: Some were taking a week here and a week there, but others were just taking the odd day. The problem with the latter is that it seemed like they were always away. That’s OK, of course, but if other members of the team feel as if someone’s taking the piss, that’s bad for morale all around.

Since that didn't work, Triggertrap made some tweaks:

Taking ten days in the first half of the year got each staff member £300 in their payslip, paid in the month of the holiday that triggered the bonus. Not a huge amount of money, but it’s a bit of vacation spending cash and — crucially, I think — an incentive to actually do something with your time off.

As for Grant Thornton, they're confident about this move:

Grant Thornton will be measuring the program and making sure that employees are using vacation time, Harless said. “We are very confident that we are the right type of culture and the right type of environment where this can make a huge difference for our people and for our clients,” she said.

Meh. Guilt culture is already a huge problem within accounting firms and unlimited PTO isn't going to fix that. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a nice perk but it seems to me that accounting firms should pay their people to take time off. It won't work exactly like Triggertrap's model due to the busy first 3-4 months of the year; but maybe the incentive window could six months. Something like, a person who takes 15 days off in the first six months (i.e. one workweek every other month) receives a $1,500 bonus (or something). If they take another 15 in the second six months, they get a $3,000 bonus (or something).

Grant Thornton is moving in the right direction but simply allowing people to take unlimited PTO will not result in those people actually taking the PTO. In accounting's (and America's) work-obsessed culture, the only way to get people to relax and recharge is to bribe them.

Grant Thornton Plans to Offer Unlimited Vacation [Bloomberg]

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