Last summer, the social impact NGO New Profit shut its doors — physical and virtual — for several days around the Labor Day weekend for what it described as a much needed “period of collective rest.”
Reactions came from all directions, including memes that appeared on New Profit’s social feeds after the organization announced that the entire team “will be stepping away from the inbox, turning off the webcam, and closing the laptop.”
After discussions over why a break was needed, what everyone’s out-of-office replies would say and how to manage anything urgent during the seven business days New Profit would stay off the grid, the organization settled on having two emergency contact numbers: the cell phone numbers of its two CEOs.
An incredible thing happened — not a single call came in.
One year later, New Profit is taking another “radical” break at the end of the month. The nonprofit’s experience with shutting down for a week offers a strategy that any company, of any size, in any industry should consider.
According to New Profit’s co-CEO Tulaine Montgomery, last year’s shutdown was necessary as the previous 18 months, which of course coincided with the global pandemic, had presented a huge challenge for many of the organization’s employees — a sentiment with which just about any worker in any sector could agree.
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Naturally, a surge in media coverage about companies temporarily “shutting down” made waves, along with a discuss over the pros and cons surrounding such a decision. Companies such as Bumble and LinkedIn and most recently, Nike, took similar organization-wide breaks, usually with the reason being to address and prevent employees from burning out.
For Montgomery, however, New Profit’s decision was about going beyond self-care, well-being or burnout:
“It’s one thing to agree that rest is important, particularly on social media where it is often framed as a dimension of self-care. It’s an entirely different thing to build a culture that centers rest, framing it as a dimension of community care, and making it available to everyone — from the people who keep the lights and servers on and the payroll running while everyone else’s screens go dark, to the workers in retail, restaurants, manufacturing, construction, and other industries that find it harder to hit pause.”
Montgomery’s perspective on why such a reset is crucial applies to all companies across all sectors. And while it may be unrealistic for a massive international company to go dark for a week, there’s a case to be made to rotate a week off, with no strings attached, across any organization so that people can take a physical, intellectual and emotional break from the daily grind. In the case of LinkedIn, a core team remained on the job to ensure the lights stayed on and the platform functioned, but those employees were able to take time off later in the year.
In Montgomery’s words, “We have to give ourselves time to rest, and model it and push for it in our communities, so we can help build a culture that normalizes conditions that enable us humans to be at our best.”
One reason why employees need time to rest, reflect and recharge is akin to one long-established conclusion: Some of the most creative ideas have emerged from, of all places, the shower. Why does such inspiration occur during such a counterintuitive time and ritual? Well, our brains can only manage so much at once. The ways in which our brains are wired are not a matter of one’s level of intelligence or competence, but of science.
To that end, while Montgomery and her peers at New Profit may explain that taking those seven business days off is “radical,” in the long term such a move really isn’t risky at all. Innovation is important for any company’s continued success, but such transformation cannot occur organically if everyone feels harried and overwhelmed. However, allowing a company’s collective brains to recharge, reboot and reset could pay dividends that are way more rewarding than a forced brainstorming session in a stuffy meeting room and a whiteboard.
So give your employees a much-needed week to decompress. It’s good for their brains, their souls and, pragmatically, can help a company thrive with new, bold ideas.
Image credit: Luis Villasmil via Unsplash
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.