One of the best companies in America gives employees ‘yay days’ to take off work — but they can’t be used for just anything

Get outside.

Get outside.
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• REI employees are an outdoorsy bunch.

• The retail co-op has a paid time off policy that reflects the culture perfectly.

• In addition to vacation time, workers get two days a year to get outside and get inspired by nature.

REI does paid time off a bit differently.

In addition to vacation time, sick leave, and other leave of absence policies, the retail chain – which is a consumers’ cooperative, meaning it’s owned by members and doesn’t have shareholders – also offers employees bi-annual “Yay Days.”

REI SVP of HR Raquel Karls said the Yay Days are more than just two extra, floating holidays. They’re meant to be spent “engaging in their favorite outdoor activity or helping create access to inspirational places through stewardship,” according to the co-op’s policy.

“People literally use them to go have fun in the outdoors,” she told Business Insider. “When you request your Yay Day, you tell your manager what you’re doing with it.”

After receiving their Yay Day coupons, employees fill out a small card explaining “what they’re ‘yaying’ about,” which they sign and turn into their managers. It ties back to REI’s commitment to helping people embark on adventures outside.

The retail chain made Glassdoor’s 2018 Employees’ Choice Awards, coming in at 61 out of 100 of employees’ favorite places to work. Glassdoor compiles the list every year based on current and former employee reviews and ratings and picks the top 100 best-rated companies in the US. Along with other HR execs from the best-ranked companies, Karls is addressing how the retail co-op keeps its employees happy and engaged at Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work Tour.

“We have a tremendously strong, positive culture at REI,” Karls said. “What I love about REI and what our employees love is … we all have a common purpose and a common passion. Our common ground is our passion for the outdoors.”

That passion doesn’t manifest itself the same way for everyone, though.

“For some that might show up like climbing Mount Rainier every year,” Karls said. “For some that might be getting outside to the dog park.”

She said the hope is that Yay Days will boost employee camaraderie and engagement, as REI employees embark on spur-of-the-moment adventures, and then return to swap stories and advice about hikes, bike trails, and parks.

“Fun is in our DNA,” Karls said. “Having fun and learning outside together is part of what we do on the clock and off the clock together.”

And, if workers need some extra equipment for a particularly ambitious Yay Day, they also get a 50% employee discount on REI gear.