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Should Manufacturers Embrace Unlimited Vacations? 5 Rule-Breaking Tips

Rewards will follow a program that keeps employees fresh and the line humming.

Suddenly, unlimited vacations are en vogue in the white-collar work world. Why? Research says that workers who enjoy regular breaks -- including frequent vacations -- produce better results and stay with their employers longer. Shouldn't manufacturers enjoy the same benefits?

Some will undoubtedly scoff at the idea. After all, when viewed through the lens of history, it’s hard to see component assembly as anything other than a 9-to-5 job with occasional overtime. We’ve been trained to think of line workers differently than we do desk jockeys.

Yet we’re all human. And we know from research that, as humans, we’re far more productive when rested. We also know that burnout can be expensive.

Take sleep deprivation, which according to a recent Harvard University study, costs American companies an estimated $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity. Removing limits on vacation and granting flex time could help manufacturers to reduce the burden. Here are five tips for creating a program that keeps employees fresh and the line humming:

1. Ask for volunteers. Radical policy changes needn’t be implemented overnight. Solicit volunteers with the understanding that, in exchange for flexibility, they may be asked to work extended shifts when customer demands require a burst of output. Treat the program as a give-and-take where everyone gets what they need, when they need it.

2. Reward extreme productivity. Flex time isn’t a reward; it’s a tool for unleashing the best in workers by maximizing productive hours and eliminating on-the-job downtime. Make good on the benefits of this maxim by rewarding teams that produce at uncommon levels, such as sponsoring a dinner out for team members and their spouses.

3. Make it a contest. Challenge teams to take extra time off. Just be sure to set the context first. Establish a big production goal for every team. Include specific, measurable benchmarks and a timeframe. Require managers to track progress. The team that accomplishes the most in the shortest time, and takes the excess as vacation, wins.

4. Define the leash, especially if it’s long. Treat vacation as an outcome rather than a process. Don’t approve time off for workers who’ve failed to complete tasks. Keep track of output versus time away, and if necessary, take swift action to punish abusers. There’s a difference between a rested, productive workforce and institutionalized laziness.

5. Fine tune over time. Adopting what’s been a white-collar benefit in a blue-collar environment is bound to create challenges. Embrace them. Remain flexible and design ways for workers to experiment. Say you run a seasonal operation. How about increasing flex-time allowances during down periods while preserving the traditional 9-to-5 plus overtime model for the tough months? Measure output versus projection and adjust accordingly.

Or to put it another way: presume nothing. The new world of work isn’t limited to white collar environments. Nor should it be. All workers -- whether manning a desk or an assembly machine -- need ample rest and recuperation to achieve maximum results. Strive to honor this balance in your own operation and the rewards will follow.

John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a global leader in employee rewards and recognition programs designed to motivate and increase engagement and productivity across the workforce.

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