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Don’t Offer More Vacation – Close the Office Instead

Reading Time: 6 minutes

My co-founder Scott Thompson and I are six years into running our small company, Stories Inc. Because our work exposes us to innovative corporate cultures, it’s easy to be organizationally progressive. We have adapted all kinds of policies for our team that have worked for our clients, be it bucket list rewards, AUA at our offsites, open floor plans, and yes, unlimited vacation.

On its face, having an unlimited vacation policy is a great idea and promotes a culture of trust and empowerment. But I’m not sure it’s working for Stories, or for other companies offering unlimited or extensive vacation as a benefit. Offering more vacation time is not what’s important, team members taking the time to reboot is.  

So, we are going to close the office too, and you should as well. Here’s why.

Why we’re embracing the four day work week

Americans aren’t taking their allotted vacation times anyway

More than half of Americans don’t take all the vacation time they earn. And if your organization is overcorrecting by tracking and implementing mandatory vacations and use-it-or-lose-it policies, it defeats the spirit of total vacation empowerment.

Leaders need to model vacation-taking behavior

According to a study from GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications and the U.S. Travel Association, 80% of employees said if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their boss, they would take more time off.

That’s not Stories Inc., no way.  Remember us, totally progressive and people-first?

Then I realized: hey, it’s not easy for me to take time off. And if I’m not modeling the behavior we say we want, I am not fully supporting and encouraging our team to take that action.

Sometimes as a company founder, you might feel like you can’t take vacation (or quit for sleep, as the recent Elon Musk coverage showed us). If you’re in certain occupations like sales, client service, recruiting, you feel like you need to be monitoring just in case. I’ve felt this way my entire career.

Once, I found out driving from the airport to our vacation lodge in Colorado that part of the charm of our getaway was that the house had unreliable Internet and non existent phone service. I still remember the spot in the house where, if I stood a certain way, almost got one bar and if I tried for 45 minutes, I could get 5 sweet, interrupted minutes of Internet access. I lasted 1 (one) day before I had to drive 20 minutes into the nearest town so I could upload something for a client that felt urgent (in hindsight, it was not).

All this to say, taking time off might be really easy for some. But for many of us, it isn’t easy to unplug entirely. Maybe it’s our own need to be needed by work, or our inflating the importance of our work so we feel like we’re doing something meaningful and distracting ourselves from our own inevitable death. But whatever it is: leaders, we should stop. This isn’t just affecting your personal health. It could be affecting your team’s health, and ultimately that impacts your organization’s health.

You need a break, too…

When we closed the office on Fridays this past August, I knew no one was waiting on an email response from me (I wasn’t blocking progress). I wasn’t “supposed” to be working. At first, I did  those things perpetually on my to do list: I got contractor estimates on a house project, I finally potty trained my two year old.

But I also spent real time on myself: I used a spa gift card I’d had for years. I went for a hike. The office was closed and the kids were in school so I felt required to spend time on myself. As a result, I felt more refreshed and less cloudy on Monday.

Here’s how our six person team spent our extra time from the four day work week:

You’ve probably heard that founders need to work on their business, not in their business. But as a company leader, how much time are you spending on reading, thinking deeply, discussing new ideas with business peers or mentors? Sometimes the constant day to day grind doesn’t leave you the space and energy to dream about the next big thing. Enter the closed office Friday.

In summary, we closed the office on Fridays in August for a number of reasons. Ultimately we realized this unexpected time off cleared our minds as leaders, increased engagement among our team, and created interesting recruitment marketing content.

There were no downsides: no loss of productivity, no unhappy clients who objected to moving calls from Fridays to other days of the week. Now we’ve decided to close the office every other Friday. You should consider it too.