Sven T. of Los Angeles asks: "We're implementing a new vacation policy in 2009. What advice do you have for making the roll-out successful?"
For organizations in the United States the following recommendations make sense.
If your company is under 50 employees, FMLA (the family medical leave act) is less regulated and the best advice I have seen is that you should coalesce all paid time off (PTO) into one plan so that when people take a day off it doesn't matter whether it is a vacation day or a sick day. This gets you out of the business of asking people to bring in a Doctor's note. Who really wants the fun job of enforcing that rule?
If you are in a company with more than 50 employees, it is advisable to keep FMLA time off in a separate bucket. These days can only be taken in certain circumstances and this must be documented and kept track of even if it is unpaid time off.
It is likely that new federal regulations may be coming our way that push the FMLA requirements down on smaller and smaller organizations.
If all of your employees work in states where it is legally allowable to do so, you may want to create a PTO plan that grants and approves leave only when requested, as opposed to one where the PTO is accrued as an asset that is owned by the employee. This way employees that quit or are terminated for any reason do not get to take their vacation as a cash 'quitting bonus' when they leave unless you authorize it. This allows you to distribute more generous PTO allowances to the employees that remain with the company.
It is difficult to find a list of all the states that are 'employer-friendly' in this way but here is one person's shot at it: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Employment-Law-924/2008/10/PTO-Pay.htm
Keep in mind that people need time off. Some people need to be forced to take it. No manager needs an employee to shave his head and run barking through the streets on all fours or show up to work with an M16. Notably, European productivity often matches or exceeds that of U.S. employees despite the fact that they have much more time off. Japanese per worker economic productivity rarely exceeds that of the U.S. despite many more hours worked per week on average.
I think the evidence would indicate that generous PTO policies for the people who stick with your company for the long haul actually pay the company back handsomely in the long run.
In the knowledge worker economy we now live in, every employee is ultimately a volunteer. Even in a trying economy, your best people have options.