A Question From a Reader

Dear Colleen,

I am currently the manager of a commission-based sales team. I myself am also a commission-based professional, with a very small percentage of overall sales for managing, training, firing, etc.

I have taught my sales people to run their own business. They have been very effective in reaching their goals, etc. My question is about vacation time. Technically, we do not provide any salary for them other than what they earn. In the summer, it is very slow. They are here when they need to be and get the job done. Some people in the organization question the amount of vacation days they get, etc.

What is the protocol? Can I tell them that they need to be here during the long dull days of summer, or say that as long as the sales office is covered, I don’t care what they do?

Hi Beth,

This is a great question. I can understand why you’re frustrated. I’d be very interested to find out if those who are complaining about the vacation time would also be the first to complain if one of your reps received a huge payout one month for a big order? LOL -sometime I take issue with those who rely on our results to get paid but are themselves unwilling to put their job on the line for the sake of results!

The truth is that very few people are willing to work on a full commission basis, precisely because it is so challenging, risky and unpredictable. To be honest, my hunch is that – if you were to offer those who are complaining the option of a flexible vacation schedule, provided they also agreed to trade in their salary for fully commission-based earnings – the vast majority of them would probably decline!

I know that sounds harsh, but I’ve worked in organizations like yours before. What I found was that many of those who aren’t in sales tend to want all the great rewards, but without taking any of the risks. If your reps are consistently over-achieving their targets, people are happy with the revenues they are producing, and the summer is slow, then it stands to reason that they deserve to take their time off, and enjoy it!

Now, I would worry if they took a lot of time off during the busy seasons, or if their time off started to hurt their results. If you notice that this is the case, then I would make sure they know that they’re required to achieve at or above a specified standard. Once this standard is met, they’re free to take as much time off as they want.

Trying to insist on a specific amount of vacation time can be difficult to enforce among commission-only employees, and can also work against your successful efforts to make your team as entrepreneurial as possible. If your management insists on a specific amount of annual vacation, I’d suggest that they put the team on salary plus base instead.