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Don’t offer more vacation – close the office instead

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic. But, given May is Mental Health Awareness month and our collective stress levels have risen dramatically this year, we updated the post for current times.  In it we share the benefits of closing the office vs. offering more vacation, and our positive experience with a four day work week. 

Having an unlimited vacation policy is very cool of you. It’s a hallmark of a progressive company. On its face, it seems like a great idea. Surely, this new policy will recharge your team and empower employees, all while promoting a culture of trust.

Stories Inc. has an unlimited vacation policy. But, as a team leader, company cofounder and organizational culture best practice observer, I don’t think it actually works.

At least, not all by itself. 

So, we close the office every Friday in the summer, and you should too.

Here’s why.

Americans aren’t taking their allotted vacation times anyway

For an unlimited vacation policy to work as intended, your team members should take meaningful (quality and quantity) time off. That sounds easy.

But, more than half of Americans don’t take all the vacation time they earn

Why not?

80% of employees said if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their boss, they would take more time off.

Yikes.

So, your unlimited vacation policy won’t work unless your team members first feel supported and trusted. While you’re building those relationships, you need to do something else so your team can really recharge.

No more FOMO

People who choose careers in recruiting, sales or client services feel like they always need to be “on” to be good at what they do. Our leaders and managers feel this way, too.

If we aren’t responsive, we miss an opportunity to serve. 

Some of us have built-in fear of missing out (FOMO) at work. Super engaged employees feel this way too. It’s so easy to stay in the know by monitoring email, slack messages, etc. even on vacation. 

Closing the office aligns time off for everyone at your company. And, when it’s company policy, it’s easier to tell clients and candidates that your office is closed every Friday.  So, eliminate the FOMO by decreasing the flow of slack messages and emails. Time to unplug. 

Leaders need to model vacation-taking behavior

Taking time off might be really easy for some leaders. But for many, it isn’t easy to unplug entirely. This is harming your organization’s health. 

When you don’t model the behavior you say you want from others, you send confusing messages. When people aren’t sure what’s acceptable behavior, they default to the example.

In this case, you really want everyone to take the time they need to reset. So, if you’re making half-hearted attempts to improve your own wellness, it is not only your personal health that suffers. Your team’s health suffers too.  And, eventually this impacts the health of your company (such as its ability to sustain high levels of engagement, and recruit and retain high performing teams). It’s counterproductive to all your culture building programs.

Closing the office down for a day or on the regular ensures you take time off, too. You’re modeling and reinforcing the message: you are serious about wellness for all (yourself included).

Creative and strategic thinkers need the space

When you’re in the daily grind every day, five days a week, for most of your life, there’s no time to just think and be. Yes, closing the office means no one is working. However, your most engaged, creative and strategic thinkers will have more mental and emotional space to do their hardest work even when they’re not exactly focused on it. 

When we closed the office on Fridays for the first time a few years ago, I knew no one was waiting on a response from me. 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 hikes.  Eventually, I felt required to spend time on myself. As a result, I felt more refreshed and less cloudy on Monday. 

But I also was hit with a ton of new ideas during this downtime. With no distractions, answers to some of your hardest problems will surface. Closing the office is a gift to your team, but also to your work as a whole.

Verdict: Productivity doesn’t suffer. Strong retention. Better creative work. Happier people.

We’re about to close our offices on Fridays for the third summer. We haven’t seen a difference in productivity, or any other negative impact to our business for doing this. I’d like to think it’s one of several things we do that keep our team choosing to stay with us every year. And I know for certain that I’ve become a better leader and entrepreneur as a result of Summer Fridays. Scott and I have used the mornings to hike while thinking through some answers to creative challenges we were facing as business owners.

Consider closing the office, instead of offering more vacation. It does a better job of achieving your ultimate goal: truly recharged and happier team members, who are more engaged at work as a result.  This leads to a world of more healthy, productive and creative organizations.

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