THE INC. LIFE

Why One Company Is Paying Employees to Take Their Dream Vacation

It’s all about prioritizing employee happiness and preventing burnout.

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BY Betsy Mikel - 15 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Shut off your phone. Stop checking work emails. Head to a remote mountain retreat in Peru to practice yoga, meditate and explore the Amazonian jungle for a month. Your job will still be there when you got back. And, you'll be paid your full salary while you're gone.

Sound like a dream scenario? That's exactly what Ben Bloch, the Director of Mobile Engineering at Weebly, an e-commerce and marketing company, has planned for later this year.

The company already boasts an unconventional hiring tactic. Now, Weebly is experimenting with an unconventional employee retention method.

Weebly recently started offering six-week paid sabbaticals in efforts to fight employee burnout and improve retention. They're calling it Weebly Wanderlust, and it's open to employees in any department, position or level who have worked there for five years. It includes one international plane ticket to anywhere employees want to go.

Weebly just launched the program, and employees are already cashing in. One is taking his family on an epic trip across Europe. Another is swapping homes with a family in Japan for a month. Others have booked family trips to Italy and France.

The sabbatical is definitely a sweet perk of their job. But it's also a strategic move on Weebly's part. The company is hoping the wanderlust program will help retain their top employees long-term.

The science of sabbaticals

Sabbaticals have long been associated with academia, but the concept is beginning to take hold in the corporate world. In a study published in Journal of Applied Psychology, a team of researchers found that people who took sabbaticals experienced lower levels of stress. When they returned to work, people were less stressed than before they had left.

Checking emails or attending an occasional meeting wasn't recommended. Those who completely disconnected and traveled to a different country had more positive experience, reporting that their sabbatical improved their well-being and self efficacy.

Weebly CEO David Rusenko is encouraging employees to fully embrace disconnecting completely. He says he thinks this is key to the success of the program. Rusenko hopes this will motivate employees to "explore something they are passionate about, broaden their world and bring those experiences, new perspectives and refreshed attitude back to Weebly."

Just stepping away for a bit

Even pausing from work for a few months -- an unpaid sabbatical -- can spark similar stress-busting and mood-boosting results. (That is, of course, if you can afford it. Not everyone can.)

It doesn't mean you're giving up on your job or career entirely. It just means you're taking some time for yourself.

Rachael O'Meara, a sales executive at Google, recently wrote a New York Times essay about her experience. Suffering from burnout and struggling to do her job well, Google allowed her to take a three months of unpaid leave. "The leave -- or pause, as I came to call it -- allowed me to reassess my path and take stock of my strengths and my goals," O'Meara writes. "I returned to Google three months later with a new job and a new outlook." She ultimately wrote a book about fighting career burnout to find true happiness.

Happier, less-stressed employees are better for everyone, right? There could be long-term cost savings associated with improved employee well-being, too.