Last month, I took a week-long vacation devoid of email, Slack, and meetings. It was delightful, and not surprisingly, I came back, not just rested and refreshed but also re-energized, with new ideas to meaningfully improve both our team and our business.
The depressing news is that fewer Americans are taking vacation, and an increasing number of employees at companies feel pressure not to take time away from their jobs. This is bad news, for our companies, for our customers, for our employees, for our families, and for our health, which is why it's imperative that every company, everywhere, consider ensuring employees get a meaningful break from work.
So with summer fast approaching, now is a great time to set the tone at your company and with your teams that taking a break isn't just acceptable, it's imperative. Below are a few ways to turn the tides at your company and give your employees the space, time, and permission they need to truly unplug.
Set the Tone at the Top
If your executive team doesn't take vacation, none of your employees will. Leadership in your organizations will become synonymous with being available 24-7, which is a dangerous association and a tough precedent to fix. At HubSpot, we noticed that some of our newer managers were uncertain how to set the tone on vacations for their employees, so we started the practice of putting vacations on our monthly management priorities as an executive team. So there, listed every month alongside revenue goals, growth goals, and key projects are life priorities for our executive team. If your executives don't set the example that vacations are part of your company cadence, employees will always be reluctant to unplug, so make it a corporate priority, not a personal one.
Remove the Hurdles
How many permission slips, shared calendars, notifications, and authorizations does it take to take time off at your company? If the answer is higher than three, you have a problem on your hands. Chances are, you wouldn't make your customers jump through those hoops to buy your product, so don't make your employees navigate a complicated labyrinth of approvals to enjoy time away from the office. Simplify the process, empower front line managers to improve and encourage time away, and ensure the process for taking time away is clear, codified, and provided for context as part of your new hire onboarding process. You shouldn't need a vacation from planning a vacation at a company--simplify any extraneous rules, regulations, and approvals so employees can spend more time booking their AirBnB and less time waiting on permission slips.
Make Time Away a Core Benefit
HubSpot has had an unlimited vacation policy since 2010. Since then, we've gone public, launched four new international offices, and added more than 1400 new employees. The policy has remained the same--we hire remarkable people and give them the autonomy to build their work around their lives, not their lives around their work. But in addition to unlimited vacation, we also offer a one month sabbatical after five years at HubSpot along with a $5,000 stipend to go somewhere you've always wanted to go. We aren't alone: The World Wildlife Fund offers every other Friday off for "Panda Fridays" to allow employees to recharge and limit the organization's carbon footprint impact, a win-win for their employment brand and for employees. Codifying time away as a core reason to work at your company has two advantages: you attract candidates who care about time away as a benefit and you create a meaningful promise your organization will work hard to deliver.
Don't Reward Availability Heroes
If you say you support time away for vacation but regularly reward and promote employees who work nights and weekends and never take time out of the office, and you create a cultural paradox. If taking a break means compromising your promotion path, your organization is doing it wrong. If you only promote people who respond instantly to every email, Slack, or JIRA, you're sending employees mixed messages about what success truly means, so rather than awarding face time heroics, actively call out the fact that you're promoting leaders because they lead balanced lives, not in spite of the fact that they do.
It's easy to blame employees, teams, or society for your employees not taking time away. But recent research shows that the obligation to empower employees to unplug falls squarely with the organization and its leadership team. So while burnout continues to fuel rising healthcare costs and decreased productivity, we as leaders can sit and watch or we can make a cultural change that makes vacation a company priority, not an employee burden. We can no longer pass the buck; we need to transform how we think, lead and manage to ensure that unplugging and recharging is a leadership imperative and a strategic priority. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to schedule my next trip...