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​I'm Sorry, I'm Not In the Office Right Now

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Aug 02, 2019

Have you heard about this one?

GoDaddy has a program called unlimited paid time off (PTO). In other words, you can take off as much time as you want.

Wow! Show of hands. How many auditors can immediately think of everything that could possibly go wrong with this program? Me, too. How do you keep track of where people are? How do you hold them accountable? How do you ensure you have the resources to get things done? How do you …? How do you …? How do you …?

But, after saying “How do you” and “No way” a few times, I took a step back and …

Hang on. Quick sidetrack. I’ve probably shared this before, but it fits well here.

It is human nature that, when we hear a new idea, we immediately come up with all the reasons it will not work. There is probably research out there to support this contention, but I think we can all agree to its truth based solely on the anecdotal evidence of our own eyes — the immediate rejection and defenestration of any new idea when presented to even the most creative and accepting of us. (I’m pointing to myself here.)

I learned the following approach to offset the immediate renunciation of new ideas, one I tried to inflict on — I mean instill in — everyone who worked for me.

Before you can say why a new idea will not work, you have to give three reasons why it will work. This approach is very effective and I’ve got examples (no time to tell them right now) of successful applications of this approach that positively impacted how we got our work done in internal audit. Of course, I also had a supervisor who, the first time I pulled this on her, replied, “Okay, I’ll give you three reasons why it will work. But I’m going to tell you right now, it’s not gonna work.” Oh well, you can only do what you can do. So, with that in mind, back to the main story.

As I thought a little longer about the concept of unlimited PTO — after I said no a few times — I began to see why it would work and how, for all intents and purposes, I had been doing kind of the same thing throughout my audit career.

You see, this is really all about accountability. And how much you actually trust the people who work for you.

What is our expectation of any internal auditor? Quick answer: To get quality work done in the allotted amount of time. Does that require the auditor to be in the office every day? No. Does that require the auditor to be allotted only a certain number of days to take vacation? No. Does that mean the auditor should be restricted from taking days off when they are sick? No.

Again, there is only one thing required of an auditor, to get good work done on time. Nothing about days off, nothing about PTO, nothing about expected hours of operation — just get good work done on time.

Ultimately, unlimited PTO is about treating people with respect and professionalism, confident that they will do the job for which they have been hired.

Here’s what I told the people who worked for me. You know what you have to get done. And you know when it needs to be completed. You are going to have days where you may only work one or two hours. You may have days where you work fourteen hours or more. It will all even out. All I ask is that you get the work done, you do the work well, and that you always let me know how to reach you if I need to find you. And one more promise, if you are on vacation, I will do everything within my power to not contact you.

It didn’t always work out. You can’t always trust the right people. But, in the end, the work got done and we had a pretty darn good reputation.

Now, when we more broadly apply this concept to everyone within the organization, a litany of similar potential issues raise their ugly heads. Will anyone show up for work between Christmas and New Years’? What about the day after Thanksgiving? What if nobody is around on a Friday? What about maternity/paternity leaves? What about the person who never took all their PTO and now takes even less? What about …? What about …? What about …? (Sound familiar?)

Ultimately, what guarantee do we have that the approach of unlimited PTO will not inhibit the organization from achieving its objectives.

In other words, a whole new risk for internal audit (and for the executives, board, et al) to consider. Does this mean that internal audit, in every single audit, will now need to include a new risk, something to the effect of “Work doesn’t get done because of abuse of the PTO policies”? Could be. (And stop and think about it a minute. Is this a risk we should have included all along?) The world is changing, as are the associated risks.

So, I don’t know about you, but this one kind of snuck up on me. Unlimited PTO: What’s the world coming to? And I’ll bet its news to more than 99% of you reading this.

Here’s the sad part. This isn’t really all that new. Digging around a little I found this has been rattling around for a while. The Society for Human Resources Management wrote about the subject in December 2014, Fast Company had an article in November 2015, and The Wall Street Journal covered the subject (calling it unlimited vacation) clear back in July 2011

An approach to employee benefits that shatters the concepts and assumptions many of us have held dear, resulting in new and/or modified risks to the achievement of the organization’s objectives. An approach that has been around for at least eight years — and more than a lot of us are only now hearing about it.

So, yeah, you should start looking at unlimited PTO and what it might mean for your organization when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, and, in general, achieving organizational objectives. But there’s a bigger message here.

Internal auditors constantly hear and say that things are changing. And we further hear and say that internal auditors need to keep up with those changes to help advise their clients. But how many auditors and their clients look beyond the obvious (OMG!! Cybersecurity!!!) to the things that are fundamentally changing the way we work and how the organization will survive.

If we had been watching, we would have been ready for this one. Unlimited PTO would have been yesterday’s news to us. And you can bet there’s a lot of similar evolutions — ones that would be surprising to us but are yesterday’s news to others — sitting out there in places that, for no good reason, we have ignored, forgotten, or shied away from.

We better start looking, because the new risks are going to come from completely unexpected sources. Yeah, some will be technology, but many more will be the result of changing mindsets, mores, and expectations.

Here's the final lines of the classic sci-fi movie The Thing: “I bring you a warning: Every one of you listening to my voice, tell the world, tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the skies. Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!”

Rather than focusing on emerging risks of which we are already aware, we need to be closely watching the metaphorical sky.

And, while we’re at it, we better keep an eye on Human Resources.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.