As employers struggle to hire, they're having to contend with the benefit that their would-be workers want most: time, and more specifically, time away from work.
At the tech hospitality company SevenRooms, they're upping the ante with another type of bonus: As of Jan. 1, every new hire gets two weeks of paid time off (and health insurance coverage) before they start their first day with the company.
Paul McCarthy, SevenRooms' chief people officer, says the plan came together last summer as employers became more desperate for jobseekers who are now more in-demand, and more burned out, than ever. Many employers have responded to the talent crunch by offering up big signing bonuses, higher pay, flexibility and other perks.
But as SevenRooms went into hiring overdrive in late 2021, McCarthy says he was "hearing a lot of people were having a hard time balancing the time they had in their lives. They were burned out between what they were wanting to do and having to choose to work."
He heard of workers jumping into new jobs but immediately burning out. After all, not everyone can take time off without a paycheck. Making sure people can take time for themselves, and not go into financial strain to do so, is something employers can help with.
With the SevenRooms "Fresh Start" policy, McCarthy says giving new hires two weeks of paid time before their first day "shows people we're committed to choice, and that time is the most valuable thing to all of us."
A pre-PTO perk could become more common: New employees at PR agency MikeWorldWide get one week of paid time off before they start, CNN reports. If a worker resigns and gives four weeks' notice, the company will give them an additional week's pay after their last day.
SevenRooms also offers employees unlimited paid time off, though even that perk has its downsides. Some surveys show workers with unlimited time off end up taking fewer days than people with a traditional cap. "Unlimited PTO means nothing if you don't take it," McCarthy says.
So under a revamped time-off policy in 2022, SevenRooms actually set a minimum number of days employees are required to take off each year, and they're incentivizing people to take extended breaks to more fully recharge.
Employees who've been with the company up to five years are required to take five consecutive days off twice a year, once between January and June, and once again between July and December.
Employees with five or more years of tenure are required to take 10 consecutive days off in the first half of the year, and another 10 days off in the second.
And more companies could encourage employees to take extended breaks. In spring 2021, PwC made headlines for offering a $250 vacation bonus to employees who take 40 consecutive hours of vacation at a time, up to once per quarter, for a total $1,000 yearly incentive.
McCarthy says SevenRooms currently has about 200 employees around the world, and it plans to expand to 300 by mid-year. They've hired 16 new people since January 1, and all of them have taken part in the Fresh Start Program. Many said they used the time to visit friends and family they hadn't seen during the pandemic; others said it was their first meaningful break from work in years.
As of February, 71% of employees of SevenRooms' employees have already scheduled some PTO time this year.