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The Boston Globe

Business

Need more vacation time? Some firms sell extra days

Once the year’s end comes into sight, employees everywhere begin fretting about their vacation days. Many wish they could get more time away from the office, while others wonder how they will ever use up all of their days off.

Some employers offer a solution — allowing employees to buy or sell vacation days or paid time off. For companies facing tight economic conditions, it’s a way to offer a benefit that costs the company little but may help attract and retain employees.

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Employers who offer it say it gives people flexibility.

A 2010 survey of employers by the consulting firm Mercer found that 14 percent of respondents allowed employees to buy or sell vacation days. About 9 percent allowed selling; 7 percent offered buying. Buy-and-sell provisions are slightly more common in paid time off plans that combine sick time and vacation time, as compared with vacation-only plans.

A survey conducted by Harris Interactive for destination club Inspirato found that one-tenth of employees who get vacation time from their employer would prefer more time off over a higher salary or promotion.

AGL Resources has long offered the option for non-union employees to buy up to five additional vacation days at their pay rate during open enrollment for benefits. The amount is deducted from the employee’s paychecks over the course of the year. If they don’t use those days by the end of the year, the company will refund the money. About 30 percent of eligible employees buy extra vacation days.

Buying or selling days off may be less important to employers who allow workers to roll over unused time. One challenge for employers is tracking the time bought and sold, said Julie Stich, director of research at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Chris McDade, a regional operations director at AGL Resources, oversees about 100 employees and said it could be ‘‘a little bit challenging’’ to cover the workload if all employees bought an extra week. He said he plans ahead in January to understand how many weeks each employee has off.

McDade buys an extra week himself to help care for his children when school is out or when they get sick.

He said the benefit also helps him when bringing new employees on board who want a certain amount of vacation time.

“Employee work-life ­balance, in today’s world it’s probably the most important thing we can do to understand and help our employees,’’ McDade said.

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