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Illustration by Laura Breiling

Want to get paid to go on vacation? This tech company is making it happen.

FullContact, which organizes contact information and other identity-related data for individuals and businesses, has what it calls a “paid, paid vacation” policy that gives people a $7,500 stipend to go away.

There is a catch, though. During your vacation, you need to be off the grid. That means no phone calls, no catching up on emails or checking in on slack channels -- your only responsibility: enjoying your time off.

The company, which now has about 200 employees globally -- roughly 60 of which are based in the U.S. -- started the program in 2012 when only 10 people worked for the startup. The funding for the vacation policy came from investors and now costs the company over $1 million a year, according to Bart Lorang, founder and chief executive of FullContact. But it's worth it. The policy helps the business run better, according to Lorang.

"It creates a healthier construct,” he says.

Some places that employees have gone include Iceland, Bali, Kenya, Japan, Costa Rica and Spain, according to the company. FullContact asks its employees to bring back photos of their travels to share with the rest of the team.

And maybe American's truly need an incentive to go on vacation. A recent report by Statista, says that 768 million vacation days went unused in 2018, a 9 percent increase from 2017. The data goes on to show that Americans who did take advantage of their paid time off only used about half of those days for traveling.

Workaholic to Work-Life Balance

Lorang created the policy after he realized he needed more of a work-life balance. He remembers a trip to Egypt that he was on with his future wife, where he was completely glued to his device. “I was literally checking my phone, checking my email with the pyramids in the background,” he recalls.

As his wedding approached, he was stricken with anxiety that his workaholic-nature and impulse to check his emails and messages would ruin his honeymoon to Tahiti. "I did not want to start off my marriage that way,” he says.

So in 2012, the experiment at FullContact began, and now every year, each employee receives the stipend. It doesn’t matter if you’re single or have a family of four to support -- every domestic employee gets the same amount (global employee policies vary). FullContact says every eligible U.S. employee took advantage of the policy in the last year -- you need to be at the company for a year before the perk kicks in.

So why $7,500? Lorang says he roughly calculated the cost for a family of four to take a trip to a nice resort in Mexico and the rest is history.

And if you’re wondering if there are any rules about what constitutes a vacation -- there pretty much aren’t. While one of the goals of "paid, paid" is to give someone the opportunity to go on a trip they otherwise couldn’t afford, if you want to use your "paid, paid" time for a staycation on your couch, binge-watching Netflix, technically you can. That does mean you could squirrel the money away if you really want to, but the company says most people go on a trip.

You don't have to be entirely off the grid when you're not on your "paid, paid" time off, but Lorang encourages it and says that the off-the-grid policy on "paid, paid" has translated to more employees going dark during all their time off.

And employees get the money before they go away. When they request vacation time, they note that they want to use the stipend for that particular time off. Once it's approved, they are given the money in one lump sum. So, employees don't need to pay for their vacation on their own and wait to get reimbursed later.

Digital Detox

If the thought of not checking your email for two weeks is panic-inducing for you, don’t fear. Lorang has a whole checklist that he has developed to prepare employees to disconnect. “Digital detox is a real thing,” Lorang says

Lorang advises his employees to set out of office messages on their work and personal emails and to delete apps like Slack and Gmail from their phones. And for those who truly want a challenge, Lorang encourages you to leave your phone behind on your vacation entirely and go completely analog.

The policy has not only benefited FullContact’s employees but the company as a whole. Fully disconnecting forces people to realize that the company will continue to function without them, according to Lorang. “[People] get this misguided hero syndrome,” he says.

Going off the grid encourages people to be more proactive about communicating with their team members and keeping people up-to-date on things, as well as, prepare and train colleagues to take on their job responsibilities when they’re not there.

FullContact isn't the only company that offers vacation perks like this. The note-taking software company, Evernote pays its workers $1,000 to go on vacation and marketing software company, Moz shells out $3,000 for its employees in vacation stipends.

In the end, for Lorang, it’s all about people connecting with each other rather than their devices and making sure his employees are genuinely enjoying their time off.

“It’s really important that we figure out that we’re working to live and not the other way around,” he says.