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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Why This Company Decided to Offer Flexible Time Off

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As a professional and a parent of a disabled child, Kellie Marquet often has to balance her paid time off between her son's needs and her own.

"I'm constantly at his therapist, or I have to go to court, or I have to take him to a doctor's appointment," says Kellie, a director with BlackRock's U.S. and Canada defined contribution business. "A lot of times, I just wish I had a day when I could stay home and organize my house. Or just take a break."

The results of a recent BlackRock employee benefits survey made clear that Kellie wasn't alone in her time off struggle. Workers wanted more flexibility in their time off. Lots more. And starting this year, they're going to get it: BlackRock has started to roll out their Flexible Time Off (FTO) policy globally, allowing employees as much paid time off as they want, while still being mindful of their work obligations.

"We want our employees to be engaged and happy," says Jennifer Lee, BlackRock's global head of benefits. "We said, 'Let's listen to our employees and give them what they want.'"

How will it work? Of course, only time will tell, but Kellie and Jennifer are excited for the major change—and evidence from other companies that have implemented similar policies seems to support their optimism.

A Unique Offering in Financial Services

Companies across the globe have been experimenting with unlimited paid time off in different forms, but many of those are in the tech industry, which is famous for its creative benefit offerings.

Because BlackRock isn't traditionally known as a tech firm, Kellie thinks their FTO policy is going to be really surprising to people. "It'll be a great opportunity for us to have a dialogue with employees about the importance of work/life flexibility."

In fact, the move toward FTO is reflective of BlackRock's overall push to attract top talent from the world of tech. The company has also recently implemented a more casual dress code, and is invested in understanding what their employees really want in order to keep them engaged at work.

The FTO policy is separate from sick leave and other forms of time off. For a working parent like Kellie, that doesn't just mean extra time to take care of her son's needs, but also time off for herself. While she envisions a quiet day getting caught up on housework, she could also take off on a getaway. Or, even rarer for a busy, professional mom: She could have a day to do absolutely nothing.

"Everyone has their own challenges, mine is that I don't get enough downtime," says Kellie. "Personally, it just feels like a weight is being taken off of me."

And anecdotal evidence shows that policies like these have worked. Companies have reported that employees don't abuse FTO. They do, however, report greater satisfaction at work and love the flexibility it affords them—and studies can't report enough how the importance of workplace flexibility is growing.

A Policy Built on Trust

Formerly, the amount of paid time off varied for each employee based on tenure and title. "Employees found it unfair," says Jennifer. "We wanted to get rid of that and treat everyone equally."

Of course, FTO policies don't mean that employees can just disappear willy nilly from their desks. Time off requests must be approved, and workers must maintain their expected performance. But while they do it, they'll be better able to live the lives they want for themselves.

"If you're getting married this year, there might be more things you have to do, or if you've always wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and it's going to take three weeks—I think it's going to open up a lot of possibilities for people," Kellie says.

And BlackRock isn't worried about people taking too much time off. One of the main reasons they chose to implement this policy is because they trust in their employees to get their work done and to collaborate. Jennifer expects employees will consider their team when requesting time off because teamwork is built into the culture at BlackRock.

"I feel like this is a message from BlackRock that hey, we're partners here, we trust you," Kellie adds.

Setting an Example

One reported concern with FTO is that employees don't take enough time off when they aren't given a prescribed amount of vacation days. But BlackRock plans to address this potential issue up front.

"We're hoping that our senior management will be role models, and that they take the time off that they need," notes Jennifer. The company will also track time off and time off requests, and plans to address any troubling trends.

"Every time we have a town hall, Larry Fink, our CEO will say, 'Make sure you take your vacation,'" says Kellie. "People need to recharge. They want people to be at their best."

And for a firm looking to attract top talent with their innovative benefits, that's exactly the message they plan to send with this policy.