Paid time off

Making room for ‘time elsewhere’: Inviting discussion

In Short

What would it look like for employees’ vacation days used in service of the Jewish communal good to be matched by their employers?

Burnout. Job satisfaction. Mental health. Leadership pipelines. Recruitment. Retention. Challenges in these areas are endemic to the world at large, and no less prevalent in the not-for-profit and Jewish communal sectors, where these concerns and trends manifest in both similar and different ways. Much has been written and reported in this very outlet about these issues.    

These challenges are not easily solved, and there is certainly no silver bullet. (And let’s imagine, for a moment, that COVID is not the front-of-mind issue….) 

How can we address these issues, or at least outpace the market more broadly, in caring for ourselves, our institutions and those we serve? Can we, to paraphrase Micah Goodman, “shrink” these challenges while also improving our personal, spiritual, and communal well-being?

Here’s one possibility: 

What would it look like for employees’ vacation days used in service of the Jewish communal good to be matched by their employers? In other words, employees choosing to devote their time off to summer camps, social services, staffing Israel trips (someday!), social services or similar work would effectively contribute half of the allotted paid time off (PTO), while their employers would match those days with additional PTO. For example:

Employees can, once per year, and after serving [three] full years at an organization and with their supervisor’s approval, work or volunteer at another Jewish communal organization or on a separate project (i.e., one that is not considered part of work responsibilities or professional development), for between [1] and [4] weeks, at a “cost” of just half the necessary PTO days. Those PTO days would be “matched” by the employer with up to an additional [10] days of PTO.  

By calling this paid time off, it would be clear that this time is actually time off from work, designed to be a meaningful step away from work responsibilities, meetings, emails, etc. By expecting employees to use a portion of their own PTO days, it would also ensure that those electing to take that time are invested in the work. In such a regime, we could do things that are not related to our daily work – whether that’s to reconnect with the outdoors, teach others, learn or explore new and unfamiliar skill sets, return to the communities that we loved so much, or simply engage in different and/ or closer relationships than we might in day-to-day office jobs. It could also allow for more time to be spent in a serious way in being active lay leaders – for example, helping to plan and execute the annual synagogue fundraiser, launch a marketing campaign, upgrade systems or fill seasonal or occasional needs.

To be clear — this would not be professional development.  It is not time to do something else while still fully engaged in the day-to-day job responsibilities that we may have. That said, it might leverage our talents or help to expand our networks and skill sets, and increase our appreciation for Klal Yisrael, and in particular the parts of the Jewish Communal Enterprise with which we are not engaged on a day to day basis, all of which would presumably be beneficial to our day jobs nonetheless.

This concept certainly raises a slew of questions. A few that come to mind, without limitation: 

  • What would the contours be for eligibility to participate? What types of employees?  Annually, or every [x] number of years? What about criteria for acceptable “placements”? Should this include volunteer work outside the Jewish communal sector? Under what circumstances or with what approvals? (I’m mindful that eligibility might vary from organization to organization…)
  • What resources would be helpful? Would people be expected to find their own placements, or could outside or centralized resources help to direct the right resources to the right places? Would any help be needed with logistics? Insurance? Background checks? Support to fill in for people taking extended blocks of PTO?
  • What are the financial arrangements? Should one communal organization effectively subsidize another one by making time available at no cost?  Should the employees devoting their time be allowed to receive any kind of payment from another in this arrangement? Could that create misaligned incentives or conflicts of interest? What about tuition discounts or dues reductions if employees choose to spend their time working at schools or camps? (To be sure, this is easier in federation and foundations, where internal decision-makers can determine how to allocate resources, and where that allocation can be considered in-kind support for on-mission Jewish communal work.)
  • Is there a risk that this concept discriminates against people who don’t have days to spare — for example, because they devote all of their PTO days to caring for others? 
  • How do we manage expectations for both the volunteering employee and the organization? We should not be so brazen as to assume that we can, in a short time, take on the work that we might like to be doing. 

These questions may be important, but they’re not existential and don’t seem to be insurmountable. And granted, adoption of such a program won’t solve all of the problems and challenges that we continue to face. But it may be, as one colleague is fond of saying, yet another arrow in our quiver as we think about shrinking the challenges and meeting personal and communal needs. It could remind us that we have our own identities and passions, and that we benefit from separating – at least to some extent – between our jobs and our lives, where we can find enrichment and fulfillment separate and apart from our employment within the Jewish Community.

So, what do you think?  Please comment below, or feel free to be in touch with any thoughts you might have.   

Doron Kenter is a senior program officer at Maimonides Fund.