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From ‘me days’ to paid sabbaticals, this Tampa office is all about time off

Currency exchange company Wise Inc. believes a generous paid leave policy is the way to keep workers happy.
Jessa Taylor speaks on the phone inside a working area at the Tampa office of Wise Inc, a European currency exchange company with a generous paid leave policy. Taylor said she doesn’t like chairs and enjoys the spot to be productive and lounge. Wise has an open desk policy so employees can switch up their working locations.
Jessa Taylor speaks on the phone inside a working area at the Tampa office of Wise Inc, a European currency exchange company with a generous paid leave policy. Taylor said she doesn’t like chairs and enjoys the spot to be productive and lounge. Wise has an open desk policy so employees can switch up their working locations. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Mar. 25

Shannon Raiser was crushed when her Papillon named Chester died unexpectedly last year. So crushed that she asked for bereavement leave from her job at Wise Inc., a global currency transfer company with nearly 350 employees in Tampa.

“Some people would be like, ‘It’s your dog,’” said Raisor, a senior customer support team leader. “But for me, my dogs are everything to me. So I was able to mourn and recuperate from that loss.”

Six months later, another blow: Raisor learned her grandmother was dying from cancer. Once again, Wise urged her to take paid leave as needed.

“I was able to drop everything and go to her before she even passed,” Raisor said. “It’s had a tremendous impact for me to be able to take that time and those moments where it’s so critical for well-being.”

Welcome to the workplace at Wise.

Over the past two years, more companies have boosted benefits and adjusted workplace expectations to help attract and retain employees post-pandemic, often offering flexible work hours and more paid time off.

Few companies have taken that approach to heart like Wise. Start with the basics: Employees get 25 standard personal days, 15 sick days and 11 holidays — including a new one, Juneteenth, added this year.

The company then offers new parents 18 weeks of parental leave, including two added this year, well above the 12 weeks afforded to federal workers in the United States. Wise this year also added 10 days of leave in the event of a pregnancy loss, plus five days for bereavement or caregiving, dubbed “compassionate leave.”

On top of all that, the company also gives employees three “me days” to do whatever they like, one day to volunteer for the cause of their choices, and — the pièce de résistance — a six-week paid sabbatical, with bonus, after four years with the company.

If you’re counting along, that’s 190 possible days of allowable paid time off. More than half a calendar year.

“A lot of the feedback we’ve gotten from candidates or on offer calls is like, ‘This is too good to be true. Are you sure this is part of my package?’” said Candace Smith, Wise’s people operations lead for the Americas in Tampa. “No. This is completely included. Take care of yourself, and we’ll take care of you.”

Sokhna Wade, a customer support specialist at global financial transfer company Wise, Inc., listens to a colleague at one of the company's U.S. hubs in Tampa. Wade feels the company really cares about her opinions and listens to feedback.
Sokhna Wade, a customer support specialist at global financial transfer company Wise, Inc., listens to a colleague at one of the company's U.S. hubs in Tampa. Wade feels the company really cares about her opinions and listens to feedback. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

Wise’s approach flies in the face of traditional workplace expectations, especially in the United States. Headquartered in Tallinn, Estonia, Wise’s policies hew more closely to global norms than those in corporate America. The extended parental leave, for example, is more akin to that offered in Europe or Asia than the United States, which has no federal law mandating time off for new children.

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“Coming from corporate America, you’re frowned upon if you’re taking your regular time off,” Raisor said. “I can’t tell you how many years I spent cashing out my PTO because I never really got the opportunity to use it. Or I lost it, because for this reason, that reason or the other, I was never able to take it. Or you’re sort of guilt-tripped into not taking it.”

That’s not the culture at Wise. The company, which last year went public on the London Stock Exchange, has tweaked its leave policies in response to employee surveys and its own perspective on the evolving global workplace — particularly during the pandemic, as workers shared their struggles of maintaining a healthy work-life balance while caring for children or parents, without sacrificing their career and personal growth.

“Something I’ve found, not only at Wise, is that when people feel like they are taking care of themselves, and they are supported by the company, they’re going to be much happier, they’re going to be more engaged, they’re going to be more productive,” Smith said. “And all of these things impact their desire to want to be at the company.”

Laura Lenihan and Sydney Demps chat during a Zoom call in the "Make it Rain" meeting room at Wise Inc, a European financial transfer company with a major U.S. hub in Tampa. Wise has an open desk policy so employees can switch up their working locations as well as meeting rooms with different themes. The "Make it Rain" room has a cloud that lights up when people speak.
Laura Lenihan and Sydney Demps chat during a Zoom call in the "Make it Rain" meeting room at Wise Inc, a European financial transfer company with a major U.S. hub in Tampa. Wise has an open desk policy so employees can switch up their working locations as well as meeting rooms with different themes. The "Make it Rain" room has a cloud that lights up when people speak. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

The paid six-week sabbatical plays a big role in that. It comes with “fun money to do what they like,” Smith said, which often means traveling the world. Employees return re-energized, sharing their life experiences, “saying they feel like a new person, they’re ready to jump right in and start a new initiative.”

“It’s worked really well in allowing people to have this reset button that they maybe hadn’t necessarily experienced before,” Smith said.

Both Smith and Raisor are looking forward to their own sabbaticals in the next couple of years. Smith may visit family in California; Raisor is thinking “anywhere and everywhere,” but especially Asia.

“It’s almost like a job requirement — you have to have a little bit of that wanderlust,” Raisor said. “It really does help with our global perspective, which is amazing. We’re a global company, so that’s our target.”

Wise

Wise is a financial tech company providing services for international money transfers across a range of currencies. The company is based in Estonia; its Tampa office is one of three major U.S. hubs, hosting customer service, human resources, compliance and other teams.

Local employees: 345

Location: Tampa

Website: wise.com

Employee comments:

“I get to help other people surrounded by other positive, like-minded individuals, and the pay and work balance are ideal for me and my new growing family.”

“I’ve never felt more appreciated and more set up for success. ... I find myself motivated to do better work here because I love everything about my job.”

“They allow me to be myself without having to sacrifice who I am for the job.”

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