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Leon Kaye headshot

Most of Us Aren’t Saving Lives. Company-Wide Time Off Would Allow Employees to Reset Theirs

Fasten your seat belts, HR: Employee engagement, and of course the notion of what time off means, are being redefined, and being done so quickly.
By Leon Kaye
Time Off

To say these are trying times for most people is a cruel understatement. We know the facts. Despite being marooned in the home office, few people have taken much time off. Many workers are now sorting out a return to the office, hybrid or full-time. Others are facing that reality while kids are, or may return, to school depending on how badly the Delta variant spreads. Then there’s the prospect of elderly family members, many of whom have been isolated for months and need help, or at least companionship, more than ever.

The situation many of us face at this time of sums up what most of us have felt the past 18 months. The one-again, off-again good and bad news surrounding COVID-19 and other festering social problems have left many of us feeling like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulled the football: only Charlie Brown ended up flat on his back with a bruised ego, not in a viral video or worse, in an ICU ward.

Fasten your seat belts, human resources people: Employee engagement, and of course the notion of what time off means, are being redefined, and being done so quickly.

There’s no question that many employees are feeling burnout in varying degrees. The advice is endless: stop having virtual happy hours, as no one likes going anyway; reduce the frequency of Zoom meetings; pay employees to take time off for vacation; don’t be a snitch and monitor whether or not your colleagues are on Slack; encourage people to capitalize on their mental health benefits, or just pay for it if healthcare plans offer miserly benefits; front the cost of virtual experiences (that aren’t Zoom happy hours).

But there is another idea, which some companies have tested out already. As one email from an organization that landed in TriplePundit’s inbox yesterday announced:

“…Over the past year, we made new investments in breakthrough organizations that ensure wellbeing in education, launched major initiatives to reskill workers for the future, and supported entrepreneurs and ecosystem actors working to repair and strengthen our democracy,” wrote the author of the organization’s email. “To continue moving this work forward powerfully, [we have] decided to take a moment to rest and reset. Our team will be stepping away from the inbox, turning off the webcam, and closing the laptop.”

That organization is completely shutting down from August 30 to September 8; everyone is taking time off. Everyone.

For many companies that are publicly owned, or have a rigorous sales cycle – among countless other factors – completely shutting down for a several days comes across as being a few pieces of fruit more than completely bananas. The idea of company wide time off, however, isn’t completely new: many big tech companies a generation ago used to shut down entirely around the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, but that was a cost-saving measure, and many employees were dinged vacation time.

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But some companies have realized the benefits of a complete break for everyone. LinkedIn did so this April. Bristol-Myers Squibb reported gave everyone worldwide two days off for rest. Other companies are going even further, by trusting their employees with unlimited leave.

As Erica Pandly of Axios wrote, “A growing number of firms are giving employees the same day or week off — separate from allotted personal vacation time — and finding that it's a lot easier for workers to unplug if their managers and peers are doing it at the same time.”

The reality is that most of us not working in emergency healthcare, or within a function where peoples’ lives literally depending on the hands or brains of others.

Executives horrified at the thought of such a plan, even for a day, may want to do it for other reasons. Those could include the burnishing of their companies’ reputations or something just about all communications professionals and executives crave: earned media.

Think of how a retailer could cement trust with employees by shutting down all stores, or several in rotation at a time for a day, allowing everyone to chill out or do those errands that have been piling up. Office employees might like the occasional weekday off to do those Costco runs or have a day at the beach or park without those weekend crowds. And again, more people would be able to take a complete, much-needed mental break knowing that they don’t have to feel as if they should check in with their peers or managers.

The stubborn fact is that the vast majority of us aren’t saving lives. Nevertheless, many of us, and others around us, feel as if their lives are at a tipping point. And from a numbers perspective, the costs of shutting down for a few days or a week could very well reduce the price of recruitment, and any perceived inefficiency resulting from employees who quite frankly, and justifiably, feel overwhelmed.

Image credit: Tabitha Turner/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye