NH News
1:54 pm
Sun November 17, 2013

Innovative Perks Improve Workplace Productivity

Arcade games. Billiard tables. Onsite oil changes and dry cleaning. No limits on vacations.

These are just a few of the perks companies like the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) are cooking up to attract and keep top talent.

The IAPP produces conferences and courses for people who do things like investigate cybercrime or evaluate privacy ethics.

CEO Trevor Hughes shows off the IAPP headquarters, a converted machine shop designed to look more appealing with wood beam ceilings and funky artwork.

Like most of the 70 or so employees, Hughes is dressed casually in jeans. He walks past a couple of dogs lying near their owners’ feet.

The setting is both industrious and hip, which reflects, as he explains, the type of employees he hires: “smart, fun and gets stuff done.”

And while employees can easily take breaks, Hughes says the place is not a free-for-all:

“We do a lot of things that look like fun things on the edges of the organizations. We have bicycles that people can use. We have ping-pong tables and a foosball table. But those really are the frosting. The cake, the substance of what we have here is a dynamic workplace where people are motivated to do good work.”

And how employees do their jobs, says Hughes, is up to them.

Time off for yoga? Go stretch, recharge and come back with fresh ideas. An afternoon to coach volleyball ? Do what you like if it makes you happier.

And when it comes to vacation, Hughes says, “Our policy is to not have a policy. Many of our employees are answering emails in the evenings. They are on their smart phones during lunch and in the mornings. There is a general blurring of our personal and professional lives. As much as we were not drawing boundaries around that work, it felt odd for us to draw boundaries around that vacation time. “

Unlimited paid time off sounds almost too good to be true. And to some employees, it’s unsettling.

“As someone who is over 50,” says Margie LeSage, the company’s H-R manager, “I do recognize a difference in the work ethic of our generation over the younger generation.  I see those of us that are used to working with, OK, you’ve got your three weeks, and you don’t take one second more than that. We feel this guilt: we came in late today so we better not leave early.”

For that reason, LeSage is less likely than her coworkers to get up and play ping pong or foosball.

“I’m definitely not saying I work harder than them, but it’s a different work style. I would feel strange about taking a break and playing catch outside.”

And herein lies the challenge with a more flexible workplace. Not everyone knows how to manage it.

Stewart Friedman directs the Wharton Work-Life Integration Project at the University of Pennsylvania.

He says some employers and employees can’t get past the traditional mindset of:

“How do I know if you’re contributing if I don’t see you? The creative challenge centers on the question of how you share information about what’s getting done and what’s not.”

Friedman says unlimited paid time off policies are not a huge trend and aren’t practical for all types of careers.

For the most part, it’s the smaller companies – those under a hundred employees like the IAPP – that generally have more success with it.

In New Hampshire, only a handful of start-ups — Dyn in Manchester, Mad-Pow in Portsmouth, to name a few — have jumped on the bandwagon.

The IAPP launched its no-policy vacation policy only this past January. And the employees interviewed for this story say they haven’t taken any extra time off this year compared to last year.

Chief Operations Officer Amy Sherwood says she does have to remind people about the need to recharge.

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to dictate what they do. And in terms of the practical aspects of implementing a program like this, where the rubber meets the road, it really is dependent on managers clearly communicating expectations around goals.”

Sherwood says she’s probably taken three to four weeks off —  when her child was sick, or when her father had open-heart surgery.

Friedman says that when the top managers in the company acknowledge that life happens, other employees overcome their guilt.

“You start to get past that when there are examples that are well known about people who’ve made major contributions and have done so with time away.”

As most workplace specialists attest, unlimited flextime doesn’t create better employees. But productive employees know how to make flextime work.

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