Why Time Off Is Key To Professional Sustainability
Kristel De Groot is the Co-Founder of Your Super. She was listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 and Inc’s Rising Star.
As the co-founder of a start-up in hypergrowth, it would be easy for me to work 24/7. In fact, it’s how my partner and I have spent much of the last seven years. We’re lucky that our passion has become our profession, so the idea of personal time has escaped us.
As our company grew from the two of us to 10, to 20 and now to about 120 team members across multiple continents, we have learned a lot about hiring and HR practices. We’ve onboarded individuals who are equally as driven as we are and who give it their all.
We have always had liberal, and some say progressive, business practices. We want our company values to reflect our personal values, and therefore offer one month of remote work, one month of vacation and a one-month company retreat. We dreamed of bringing our whole team to Bali but have ended up in Tulum, Mexico, Costa Rica and Los Angeles (a thrill for the European team). These adventures have created deep bonds between teams and lasting memories. (Imagine morning yoga on the beach, bike rides to the co-working space, problem-solving workshops, hammock lounges, team-building exercises, surf lessons, big vegan dinners, trying to catch a rogue spider in your shared room, late-night parties and every other imaginable remote adventure.)
But in a year of travel bans and work-from-home life, we, like everyone, started to experience some digital fatigue and struggled with dividing work and personal time (and space). We saw it affecting our employees, too. They began to get burned out, monotonous and in a rut. We were able to continue to scale during the global upheaval, but some of the sparkle was missing from everyone’s eyes.
We checked in with our head of HR and were shocked to find out that in Europe, our team members took an average of 20 vacation days, while in the U.S. they took only four. No wonder everyone was burned out. As Europeans working in America, we’ve learned a lot about “hustle” culture but needed to address the fears individuals had about taking time off from work. They included feeling like there was too much to do, worrying someone else could possibly take their place and missing out on something. It was fear of missing out (FOMO) at a troubling level.
When my co-founder and I took a look at this trend, we decided we needed to lead by example and took our first true vacation in seven years. We blocked our calendars off for the week. We attempted to turn our phones off and be in the present moment. And though at first our digital addiction and habitual work habits spun us into a little FOMO panic, we rested well knowing that we hired the right people as managers and the right team members to handle things. We enjoyed the rest of our week (mostly) out of meetings and calls.
In the time off, we rested and recharged. While we talked about work most of the time, it also gave us the space to reflect on the last seven years’ sprint and visions for the future and to get a tan. We have now instituted a mandatory vacation and unlimited time-off policy because if you’re going to work hard, you need to play and rest hard. I believe that’s the secret to sustainability.
If you want to encourage your employees to take time off, first look at the current trends at your company. Are people using their vacation time? If not, make it clear that taking time off is valued in your company. Then, share company-wide procedures for ensuring coverage while employees are out of the office. Here are some tips we share with our employees to help them prepare for time off and minimize the extra work it creates for their colleagues:
• Mark your out-of-office (OOO) days on a shared calendar so all departments can see when you’ll be out.
• Check in with the people you work closest with to let them know when you’ll be out and to update time lines or approval processes for any projects that may be impacted.
• A week before your time off, look at your upcoming tasks and start to reassign them to others on your team.
• Have one-to-ones with teammates who will be covering for you to make sure they feel confident about handling whatever comes up while you’re out.
• Set an OOO message on your email and Slack so people know who to contact while you’re away.
• And finally, enjoy your time off. If you come back refreshed and energized, the whole company will benefit.
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