Tech firm Weebly tells employees to take a hike

To win the talent war, a bold addition to the benefits package at a web-hosting service known for its drag-and-drop website builder actually encourages tenured talent to leave the office. Some benefits observers say other employers with deep pockets might want to consider the arrangement in consultation with their broker or adviser to stand out from the pack.

Weebly recently announced a six week paid sabbatical program for all-star employees who have been with the company for five years or more. The goal is to help reduce burnout and encourage employees who are playfully known as “Weeblies” to travel, expand their worldview and check a goal off their bucket list.

Of roughly 275 employees, 10% are currently eligible for a Weebly Wanderlust sabbatical that includes free roundtrip airfare to anywhere around the world. One employee is heading to a remote mountain retreat in Peru to practice yoga, meditate and explore the Amazonian jungle for a month. Another is taking her family on a cultural adventure to London, Paris, St. Tropez, Venice, Florence and Cinque Terre. Other trips are expected in the coming months.

“We want to show our employees that we value them and their work,” says David Rusenko, CEO and co-founder of Weebly. “They shouldn’t feel that they have to switch jobs to get the time off they need to recharge.”

While the program’s eye-popping terms may seem fantasy-like, it could be duplicated at companies with the financial wherewithal whose leadership is willing to make such an investment, says Lynda McKay, VP of HR consulting at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

She considers Weebly’s move “an amazing perk” that clearly shows a deep appreciation for top talent, especially for tenured employees who aren’t managers or executives. In short, she says it offers “a trip of a lifetime most of us would never be able to afford.”

Trips of this kind are usually reserved for C-Suite employee levels “if offered at all,” she says. What’s also unusual, McKay adds, is that sabbatical terminology is more often used in the higher education arena vs. the high-tech industry.

Standing out in the benefit desert
Lengthy paid sabbaticals are seen as a competitive edge not only for employers, but also their advisers, says Rob Wilson, an employment trends expert and president of Employco USA. “If you’re looking to differentiate your company from others, it’s definitely an added value that you can offer to your employees,” he says, noting it’s largely confined to medium and large-sized companies.

“In any business,” Wilson continues, “especially as a benefits broker which is primarily commission-driven, you need to set yourself apart. You need to offer a variety of advice to your customers, but to be able to bring something like this to your clients, you need to differentiate yourself. It’s a great opportunity to do that.”

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The Weebly Wanderlust program, which is applicable to 10% of the company’s national workforce, is part of a larger wellness initiative that includes in-office doctor’s visits, exercise classes, a recipes newsletter, and sessions on mindfulness, meditation and tips on how to disconnect from devices. In announcing the initiative, the company cited new research from Kronos suggesting that employee burnout is responsible for half of all employee turnover.
Despite all the accolades associated with such a high-profile perk, McKay isn’t convinced the paid time off would guarantee employment long-term loyalty and wonders if an employee might decide to quit upon their return. “I would imagine some kind of agreement would be a wise move on behalf of the employer,” she says.

Most employees typically take just one or two weeks of paid vacation time, according to McKay, who believes the lion’s share of vacationers need three days to relax and forget about their job and another three days to recoup. A six week sabbatical “truly gives the employee a “refresh and recharge” before returning to work,” she says.

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