women on vacation

A CEO who gives his employees $2,000 to go on vacation says people are more productive than ever

If you get paid vacation at your work, do you actually take them? This employer learned early-on how important taking time off is for employees and implemented a strategy to make sure all of his staff use them. How? He pays them $2000 a year to take a vacation.

CEO Pays Staff $2000 to Take Vacation

There’s no doubting it: Taking vacation is amazing. Nothing feels better than the ability to simply relax on a Monday morning instead of gearing up for work. Despite this, the majority of Americans don’t take all of their paid vacation time, if they take it at all.


Mark Douglas, CEO of SteelHouse marketing and advertising firm, saw this trend and learned early in his career that employees not only need to be given paid time off, but they need to be actively encouraged to take it. (1)


He launched SteelHouse in 2010, and it only took him one year to find a solution to this problem: Give people unlimited vacation, and pay them to take it. If you work at SteelHouse, you are given $2000 each year to take vacation that you can use whenever and however you want. (1)


“If you have a caged lion that was born in captivity, and then you open the cage, they back up more into the cage. They don’t start running free,” Douglas told Business Insider. “When we first started telling people they had unlimited vacation, they didn’t even know how to interpret that.” (1)

SteelHouse provides each of its employees with money to go wherever they want and do whatever they want and they will cover up to $2000 for you to do that. You can use it all at once or spread it out over multiple trips or vacations – it’s entirely up to you. (1)


A Company Built on Trust and Ambition

Douglas noticed that as soon as employees started using these benefits and took vacations, productivity and workplace satisfaction went up. So much so that the turnover rate for employees is incredibly low – SteelHouse has about a 98% retention rate. The ones who do leave do so for reasons outside of the job itself. (1)


How The Travel Stipend Works

Not only does Douglas trust his employees, but they also trust him. This is because he makes things like their travel benefit easy and quick to use. (1)


When you buy your plane ticket for a vacation, you are reimbursed the very next business day. When you return from your trip, you submit your expenses to be paid up to the $2000 limit. If you want to go somewhere but don’t have the cash, you are able to put it on the company credit card and the money will be “removed” from your travel budget. (1)


Douglas hopes to encourage his employees, most of whom are under the age of 30, to achieve work-life balance and to one day implement similar concepts when they are managers and CEOs of other companies one day. (1)


“It’s one thing to say ‘You have three weeks vacation,’ like most companies do,” he said. “It’s another thing to say ‘You have cash, and if you don’t go on vacation and spend this money, the money literally goes to waste.’ It’s another level of saying this is real.” (1)

Other SteelHouse Employee Benefits

Working at SteelHouse has more than just travel perks. They have a whole host of reasons why you’d want to work there, including (2):

  • Competitive salary
  • 100% healthcare coverage
  • Flexible spending accounts
  • Company-wide 3-day weekend every month
  • $500 contribution to Acorns portfolio
  • 401(k) plan
  • Fully-stocked kitchen, outdoor bbq, and food trucks
  • Outdoor dog park (LA location)
  • A free laptop that is yours (after 6 months of employment)
  • Custom in-office brewery
  • Weekly fitness classes

Coupled with an open-ended vacation policy and a CEO that actually cares? Working for SteelHouse is most definitely a dream job.

The Stats on American Paid Vacation Days

Americans are known around the world as ‘workaholics’, and there are numbers to back it up: 52% of workers in the United States don’t use all of their vacation days each year. (7) Those that do use their vacation time only use 51% of it on average. (5) In total, about 708 million vacation days go unused every single year. (7)

Typically, American workers receive far less paid vacation than their European counterparts:

  • Austria has 25 paid days plus 13 holidays. If you’ve worked for the company for 25 years or more you get 30 paid vacation days. (3)
  • Estonia has 20 paid vacation days plus 11 holidays. (3)
  • The UK has 28 days of vacation time, no paid holidays required. (3)
  • France, Finland, Germany, Spain, Denmark, and the UAE all get 30 days, not including public holidays. (4)

The United States falls far below that: American employers aren’t required by law to give you any paid vacation time at all. On average, American workers receive just 16 days – many receive much less, even zero. (3)

Why Americans Don’t Take their Vacation

Not only do Americans not receive much paid time off, but those that do often don’t take it. This is for a variety of reasons:

  • Never taking time off is often viewed as a ‘badge of honor’ in American culture (6)
  • Workers feel discouraged by employers to take extended time off (6)
  • Companies don’t mention or talk about vacation policies (5)
  • Workers are afraid of the mountain of work they will return to post-vacation (5)
  • Some feel the company will fall apart without them (5)

Essentially, American culture, fear, and a lack of encouragement all cause employees to work, work, work with little to no play.

Why Vacation Time is So Important

Having – and taking – a vacation from work is extremely beneficial both for the workers and for the companies that employ them. Let’s first look at the benefits to employers.

Benefits of Employees Taking Vacation for Companies

There are three main reasons why workers, including upper management, taking time off is a good thing for business.

1. It develops leaders

When the senior leaders in a company go on vacation, it provides other more junior staff with the opportunity to take on more leadership roles and develop those skills. The best practice here is to have those set to be ‘interim leaders’ sit in on meetings and decision making processes to have them ready for when the leader is away. (7)
Leaders taking time off also show their employees that they trust them. When the leader is away, employees have the opportunity to work and make decisions more independently. This allows them to prove their capabilities and builds skills and confidence. (7)

2. It helps you spot gaps

When workers book a vacation, it allows you to see where your gaps lie. This can be where you need to train employees for certain responsibilities (who’s going to take care of that big account while so-and-so is away?), but can also be more major in spotting employees who are taking advantage of the system, like fudging accounts. (7)

3. Employees perform better on the job

They have the opportunity to take time off and are more productive and happier while at work. Employees that are encouraged to take time off without repercussions also report higher job satisfaction. (3)

Most importantly, taking time away from the office is highly beneficial for the employees, as well.

Benefits of Vacation Time for Employees

Taking time off work is crucial to employees’ mental and physical health. These things, of course, bleed over into work performance and workplace satisfaction. Let’s look at these benefits now:

1. Reduced Stress

Not surprisingly, taking vacation allows employees to relax for a bit and take a break from their regular, stressful work week. (8)

2. Increased Focus

Employees who take time off prevent the dreaded burn-out: aka when they return to work, they are more focused and therefore more proactive. (8)

3. Heart Health

Stress is hard on the heart: Taking vacations has shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. (8)

4. Increased Happiness

Happy employees are good employees. Being encouraged to take vacations makes them feel happy, trusted, and valued as employees. Going away on vacation also makes people happy, of course, and they will be in a better mood when they return. (8)

5. Better Sleep

Work quality suffers when employees are tired. Sleep quality improves while on vacation, again most likely due to decreased stress. Employees will be refreshed and well-rested once they return to the office, ready to put in their best work. (8)

6. Better Work-Life Balance

Overall life satisfaction is crucial, and the proper balance between working and enjoying life is what achieves it. If an employee doesn’t feel like their job allows them enough time to spend with loved ones enjoying life, they will be unhappy, less productive, and eventually, they will leave. (8)

7. Better Workers

If employers want their employees to be more productive, more creative, and contribute more to the company, then they need to give them more time off. (8)

It’s clear that the more flexibility and encouragement employees are given to live life the way they want to, the happier and more productive they are at work. Perhaps it is time that more companies implement policies like the one at SteelHouse or take a page out of some of our European neighbors’ books – the companies will be better off for it.


  1. A CEO who gives his employees $2,000 to go on vacation says people are more productive than ever.” Business Insider. Chris Weller September 26, 2016
  2. Build Your Careerat MNTN.” Steel House.
  3. How Taking Paid Vacation Time Benefits Employees and Employers.” The Balance Careers. Suzanne Lucas. December 25, 2019.
  4. 11 Countries That Use the Most Vacation Days.” Travel Channel. Deanne Revel.
  5. Why More Vacation Time Will Benefit Your Employees.” Achievers. Kellie Wong. August 17, 2017.
  6. The Power of Vacation in Employee Wellness.” Corporate Wellness Magazine. Elizabeth Halkos.
  7. Three Reasons Your Company Should Make Vacation Mandatory.” Forbes. Jim Ludema and Amber Johnson. June 5, 2018.
  8. “Importance of Taking Vacation Time.” OSG. Gary Stevenson. July 5, 2017.
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.