Company-Led Travel Planning Gives Vacations a Boost

Younger workers, especially, value travel and ‘bleisure’

By Greg Goth July 24, 2018
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Employees too often lose weeks of earned vacation to short-staffing, a demanding boss and too many tasks. It doesn't have to be this way.

In the United States, 52 percent of workers forfeited a total of 705 million paid-time-off (PTO) days last year, according to Project: Time Off, a program funded by the U.S. Travel Association. The group's State of American Vacation 2018 survey was conducted in January with responses from 4,349 full-time employees who receive PTO from their employer.

Those numbers are echoed by a Harris Poll conducted in 2017 for employer review website Glassdoor. That survey, answered by 2,224 adults ages 18 and older, found that the average U.S. employee who was eligible for vacation took about half (54 percent) of his or her allotted earned time off in the 12 months prior to the survey; only 23 percent reported taking 100 percent of their eligible time off.

Employers may pride themselves on having formal policies that encourage workers to take earned vacations to recharge their energy, but by the time the message filters down to the front lines it has often been diluted, said Katie Denis, lead researcher for Project: Time Off.

"It is rare to find companies that are putting their money where their mouth is on encouraging vacation," she noted, and so employees' personal needs often go unmet.

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A pioneering handful of companies, however, are helping their workers plan and budget for their travels. The changing demographics of the workforce suggest these businesses may have found a way to be employers of choice, especially among younger workers. Consider, for instance, that a 2017 survey of 1,000 employed adults in the U.K. showed that Millennials were more likely than older workers to value experience-based rewards.

Vacation-Package Perks

North 6th Agency, a 50-employee social media marketing and public relations agency with offices in New York, Toronto and Boulder, Colo., launched a customizable perks program this year called Pace Points. Employees earn points based on meeting individual, group and company goals. Those perks include travel packages to the Cannes Film Festival or the Super Bowl, or a month spent in Europe or island hopping.

"We serve as a concierge," said the firm's founder, Matt Rizzetta. "Let's say you have 1,000 points, and you want to cash them out on the Super Bowl experience. You just tell HR that's what you want, and from there HR works to help you plan your trip, handling all the logistics."

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Weatherby Healthcare, which specializes in placing physicians in temporary positions nationwide, is pioneering travel planning for its employees via its Dream|Work life-coaching program. Milca Esdaille, who directs the program, said it is open to any Weatherby employee who has been with the company for at least 18 months (military veterans are eligible after a year).

The program offers planning services that help participants fulfill their goals of taking a special bucket-list trip, Esdaille said. A coach could help employees research airlines and cost and create the beginnings of a budget. An in-house travel agency, which helps the firm's doctors with job-related travel, also helps employees plan holidays.

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Develop and Administer Paid Leave Programs]

Redefining 'Bleisure'

Businesses without an in-house travel department can leverage their relationships with an external agency, said Gabe Rizzi, president of the corporate business travel division at New York-based Travel Leaders Group (TLG) travel agency.

One trending type of travel that Millennial workers in particular are interested in has been branded as "bleisure," a blend of business and leisure travel.

A 2016 survey, sponsored by travel app Hipmunk, of 1,650 adults found that 55 percent of Millennial travelers were willing to extend a business trip for the sake of leisure travel. "Many Millennials are taking advantage of business trips to experience new places, and in doing so, it's just one more way that Millennial travel habits are changing the face of business travel as we know it," stated a commentary on travel trends by American Express Global Business Travel.

Rizzi said the way TLG pursues the bleisure market has evolved. The original concept entailed tacking on several personal-time days before or at the end of a business trip. However, the reality of tight schedules has compelled a new approach, so in April TLG announced a partnership with Context Travel, offering business travelers small-group walking tours of cities led by experienced local guides.

"People's lives are busy," Rizzi said. "They may not have days to burn on the road, but they do have hours. These tours are an enriching experience and play to Millennials' desire for experiential benefits."

There is no standard template for setting up a functional travel-planning infrastructure, Rizzi said, but offering vacation assistance is something HR executives ought to consider.

A Few Tips

To support employees' vacation planning, travel professionals provided these pointers:

  • Build a program in phases. A travel-perk program should be implemented in stages, Rizzetta said. "Do it strategically so you can make adjustments as you go along, with proper logistics and financial testing" so you don't bust your budget, he advised.
  • Encourage workers to plan early. Late summer and early fall isn't too soon to start making 2019 travel resolutions, Denis said.
  • Leverage existing partnerships. If you get corporate lodging rates for business travel, try to extend that to employees' holiday trips, Rizzi suggested. "If you can extend corporate discounts at the employee level for personal use, it doesn't cost you anything, and you're able to provide a differentiated work environment" that distinguishes you from competitors.

Even if starting a corporate travel planning benefit isn't in the cards, making sure employees aren't forfeiting vacation days can be vital in preventing burnout and resentment.

"Do an analysis of the departments where employees are forfeiting or rolling over the most time," Denis advised. "If you find a problem area, you want to hold managers accountable for fixing it."

Greg Goth is a freelance health and technology writer based in Oakville, Conn.

Related SHRM Articles:

More People Are Taking Time Off, and That's Good for Business, SHRM Online Employee Relations, June 2018

How to Design a 21st Century Time-Off Program, HR Magazine, March 2018

Encouraging Employee Vacations, SHRM Express Requests

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