Blog Post

For Millennials, Is a "Pre-Cation" the Next Big Perk?

Larissa Faw

Business Journalist

Last year, San Francisco-based real estate startup 42Floors made headlines with an innovative new policy to attract young talent: Paid vacation for new employees before their first day on the job.

This "pre-cation" perk began as a one-off incentive for a burned-out candidate. "Every other company he was talking to was asking, 'How soon can you start?'" Jason Freedman, co-founder and CEO of 42Floors, told Slate. So Freedman made the candidate an offer with an unusual catch: Take two paid weeks off before officially starting. After seeing how refreshed and energized the employee was on his first day, Freedman decided to start offering pre-cations to all new hires.

While this pre-paid time-off perk has yet to catch fire among employers—the other company advertising a similar program is San Francisco-based software company Atlassian—it does represent a larger trend in how millennials value work-life balance. "Money isn't what drives millennials," says Stav Vaisman of Fame Media, who is both a millennial and primarily employs them. "They value their time."

As millennials increasingly become the majority of the American workforce, pre-cations represent a concept that HR executives need to examine and potentially integrate into their own benefits.

Finding Time to Travel

Millennials are already embracing their own version of the pre-cation in between jobs. People ages 18 to 26 work an average of 6.2 jobs before their 27th birthday, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Tina Wells, millennial expert at Buzz Marketing Groups, says it's not uncommon for this generation to strategically plan their exit and entry at a new job to complement their travel plans.

Lexi Scholes, for instance, quit her advertising job in the spring with the foresight that she would spend some time before she started grad school in the fall. She plotted her time off strategically and turned down a "really good job offer" in order to travel, volunteer and enjoy herself before getting back into the daily grind—even though her parents felt she was hurting her career trajectory with this months-long break.

"Millennials watched their parents work for 40-50 hours each week, invest their money and it all went away," says Wells. "They see the work-life balance differently. Their parents were all about work. Millennials want to live their lives."

Breaking Away from Our Workaholic World

Millennials aren't willing to sign up for the grind of a job that their parents and grandparents accepted. The one-size-fits-all 14 days a year vacation policy is no longer sufficient to retain or attract young employees.

Fame Media's Vaisman says he has had to relax his vacation policy enormously over the past 15 years to accommodate millennial workers. "Instead of a set number of days, we now have a flexible honor system that says you do what you need to do. I used to be much more traditional, but had to become less rigid with today's culture and how people approach work."

Unlimited vacation is increasingly common: Forbes reports that three percent of businesses currently offer the policy, including Virgin Media, Netflix, Zynga, HubSpot and Evernote. Companies are adopting other non-traditional vacation policies, too. Buzz Marketing shuts down for an entire two weeks in August so everybody on staff is off at one time, rather than have people cover for one another while on tiered vacation schedules. "We are all on the same page, so all of our clients know we are gone and then we are all back, hard at work," says Wells.

Top Talent Wants Time Over Money

As the U.S. economy continues to recover, it is likely that companies will begin to explore novel perks like pre-cations in order to appeal to Millennial workers. "Realistically, [pre-cations] are a small but interesting manifestation of how employers are experimenting with ways to attract and retain the best talent," says Nate Graham, Cultural Strategist, sparks&honey.

Greg (who asked not to be identified by his last name) recently chose one job over another opportunity that was equal in all matters except one: His accepted position paid $3 less per hour and offered four more vacation days each year. "I thought it said something about the company that they let us have more time off than usual. Yeah, I could have been paid more, but [the vacation time] says something about their priorities."

Ultimately, employers can only control one side of the equation, says sparks&honey's Graham, "so having a workplace that's equipped and focused on obtaining value from this new millennial mindset is increasingly important."

Photo: Charles Coy

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