Craig Bryant, Founder and CEO of Kin, and Emily Powers, Director of Operations and Finance at Fresh Tilled Soil, have joined forces to uncover the mysteries of the modern workplace. The following is the second chapter of an eight-part series featuring some of the greatest debates, struggles, and solutions surrounding how we work.
In our intro post, we made one argument painfully clear: Technology has fully blurred the lines between work and home, granting us the limitless temptation to crank out work at any hour, from any location. Notifications from incoming email, messaging apps, and project management apps are pinging our phones at all hours, nudging you to just send that quick message back – from bed, at midnight, with a bowl of ice cream on your lap.
Sure, we can all wage a war against Slack, email, and notifications. Our CEO himself is often heard saying, “If I send you message on the weekend and it’s not important, just don’t respond” or, “shut off notifications.” Let’s be honest, that just doesn’t feel possible, and here’s why. At Fresh Tilled Soil, we’ve cultivated a team in which every single person possesses a quality that is nearly impossible to screen for ahead of time: an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. That’s right, a team of type-As constantly aiming to delight their coworkers and clients every day. This is a team of people who feel the pull of that phone ping at midnight. While I deeply appreciate hearing the reminder to shut-off from our CEO, this only scratches the surface.
So, how do we combat this “always on” mentality? We tell our employees NOT to come to work. I suggest using three main tools to keep employees’ heads out of the game:
- Planned time off
- Life outside of work
Planned time off
The modern workplace has seen a surge in policies encouraging and even requiring time off. Going well beyond the federal and state mandates for vacation, sick time, and parental leave, many companies are offering very generous time off allowances including unlimited paid time off. We’re not just talking about hoodie-wearing tech start-ups either. Corporations like GE, NetFlix, LinkedIn, and Virgin Group are offering unlimited PTO. In addition, according to a 2015 research report from the Society for Human Resources Management, 26% of employers are going well above and beyond the minimum FMLA parental leave requirements.
Now, for the Netflix’s of this world, unlimited PTO and unlimited paid parental leave are feasible. However, for many organizations, this type of policy is financially and culturally impossible. Here is the good news: There is a strong argument stating that policies providing no structure around time off result in employees taking less time off. That’s right, given the free-for-all that is unlimited paid time off, employees don’t plan for time off, and that means it doesn’t happen. At Fresh, we have seen this play out first hand. We offer unlimited PTO, however we began to notice this “I’ll take it later” mentality and knew we needed to be more forceful about taking time off. Today, we still offer unlimited paid time off, however at the beginning of each year we ask everyone to lightly map out a minimum of four weeks vacation. If you plan it, they will go (hopefully). Some companies take it even one step further. Authentic Jobs has a “Minimum Time Off” policy whereby checkins occur regularly to make sure people are taking time off at regular intervals throughout the year.
Though I gave our CEO a bit of a hard time earlier regarding his suggestion to “just not respond” to after hours messages, I’m now going to praise this behavior in a different context. Let me be clear, there will never be an end to boundary assertion. Just saying “don’t respond” once will never be enough. If you have a team like ours with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, you will be restating boundaries daily to keep the lines between working times and non-working times clear.
Some examples include: Telling a sick employee to just take the day off rather than suffer through the day working from home, discouraging after hours communication unless absolutely necessary, setting healthy expectations about how/when we communicate with clients, encouraging clear breaks to reset during the day (running, cycling, taking the dog for a walk), and not allowing lunch scarfing at desks (this is a huge rule for us). The boundaries will be different for every organization, but it’s a mindset I encourage you to try on for size. Effective managers that truly empower and trust their teams need to be spending just as much time coaching the practice of “not working” as they do on work performance.
Life outside of work
Employees who have vibrant lives outside of work are very successful at truly separating from work, resetting, and returning to work focused and fresh. The research shows that productivity plummets when people work over 50 hours per week. Get them out of the workplace and work mindset! We allow time for and encourage life outside of work. We post photos and celebrate dog walks, hikes, bike rides, family time, charity work, and 50K run victories! We even encourage these activities during working hours through our wellness program.
To sum up: A company doesn’t need to offer over-the-top, expensive time off and leave policies to ensure their team is happy, rested and supported. In fact, I would argue that companies offering sweeping policies that put the onus on the employee are just being lazy. A truly supportive work culture is forged in the everyday details. It’s booking a massage for someone who is absolutely killing it, it’s telling that Type-A to get the heck out of the office at 1:00pm after wrapping up a stunning project, it’s arranging a team hike…I could go on forever.
Above all, your team needs to feel supported away from work. Generous time off policies, constant boundary assertion, and encouraging life outside of work means nothing if employees literally break out in a cold sweat at the thought of abandoning their to-do pile. They will never be able to mentally separate from work unless they know their responsibilities are taken care of. Back one another up, have open conversations about current projects, and clear their minds of that burden so they can really and truly disconnect.
About the author: Emily Powers is Director of Operations and Finance at Fresh Tilled Soil.