Workplace

The hottest new perk in tech: A week off for burnout recovery

In an industry where long hours are a "badge of honor," a week of rest may be the best way to retain talent.

The hottest new perk in tech: A week off for burnout recovery

Tech companies are giving their employees a week to rest and recover from burnout.

Photo: Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash

In early May, the founder of Lessonly, a company that makes training software, sent out a companywide email issuing a mandate to all employees. But it wasn't the sort of mandate employees around the world have been receiving related to vaccines and masks. This mandate required that every worker take an entire week off in July.

The announcement took Lessonly's staff by surprise. "We had employees reach out and share that they were emotional, just thankful that they had the opportunity to do this," said Megan Jarvis, who leads the company's talent team and worked on planning the week off.

Lessonly is not alone. Earlier this year, HubSpot introduced what it's calling an annual global week of rest. Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced global reset days that take effect later this year. And Bumble also instructed its employees to take a collective week off. "The past year has been an important moment for us to reflect on the ways we work and how we can best support our teams around the world," Bumble president Tariq Shaukat said in a statement. "It's becoming increasingly clear that the way that we work, and need to work, has changed."

For all of these companies, the goal is to fend off burnout, an increasingly widespread issue that's only been exacerbated by the pandemic. In May 2019, the World Health Organization officially added burnout to the International Classification of Diseases, citing it as an occupational phenomena. Then came COVID-19, and the mixture of long hours and high expectations began intermingling with new stresses, including caregiver strain, the movement for racial justice and the challenges of remote working. Now, tech companies are thinking up new ways to keep employees engaged.

"In the tech industry, like some other industries, there is this sort of badge of honor when it comes to the number of hours that you put in, and when it comes to people considering that a sign of how seriously you take the work," said Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. "In some cases, shutting down organizations is a good thing to do."

The 'Great Resignation'

For Lessonly, the inspiration for the week off came after the company required that all of their employees take days off during the winter holiday. When they returned, Jarvis said employees expressed that they appreciated the time with family and the ability to rest and recharge. "We saw the benefit of the winter break; we said, 'Let's do that midyear as well,'" recalled Jarvis.

The summer break offered Lessonly employees another opportunity to "let some of that pressure go that I think they've been carrying," Jarvis said.

It might have come just in time. Widely referred to as the "Great Resignation," roughly 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's not entirely due to burnout, of course, but it certainly doesn't help with retention. According to a research study by Gallup, employees who experience burnout are almost three times as likely to seek a different job. And when a burned-out employee quits their job, it's costly. Gallup estimates that replacing one worker requires one-half to two times the employee's salary. Workers who are disengaged are similarly expensive; according to Gallup, they can cost companies up to 18% of a worker's salary in lost productivity.

The question remains: Is taking a week of rest actually effective in addressing burnout?

According to Doug Mennin, a clinical psychology professor at Columbia University, this approach is more of a short-term solution, but he said, "If you're not sleeping, and you're working a lot, and you're strung out from it, being able to recharge can be helpful."

Gruttadaro from the APA Foundation acknowledged that not every business has the luxury of taking a week off, but said, "If you can take one week off as a business, and then get the value of that in loyalty and employee productivity and performance, it seems well worth the investment."

A key challenge for businesses looking to implement a week of rest can be balancing that time off with customer demands and productivity goals. For Lessonly, that took planning. "If we want to take a break, that has an impact on our customers," Jarvis said. "So we had to take a step back and go: How do we do this and not put our customers in a difficult position?"

The key for Lessonly was giving managers and departments enough time to figure out how they could handle their products and customers during the time off. "We didn't decide this two weeks before we wanted to do it. We decided it in enough time to let managers and departments figure out how they could handle any support needs," Jarvis said.

The company sets quarterly objectives, so taking a week off in the middle of a quarter can impact an entire project. Teams had to make sure they could adjust their projects to still deliver by the end of the quarter, and Lessonly did keep some employees on call during the week off, providing them with additional time off later.

While some companies, including HubSpot, have committed to make a week of rest an annual event, Lessonly is still debating whether it can replicate this in the future and plans to study whether giving employees this time off was effective.

A new normal

Assessing these programs is critical, Gruttadaro said. Before jumping in with a solution to burnout, organizations should have a clear view of what employees actually want and need. They should first conduct assessments to understand why their employees are experiencing burnout in the first place, and let those employees help design what Gruttadaro called "a new normal" at work. "It's really important that organizations allow employees to feel like they're part of defining what that new normal looks like," she said.

In a blog post announcing HubSpot's annual week of rest, the company's culture communications manager, Sophie Hamersley, said the plan was based, in part, on a company survey. "In a recent survey, one HubSpot employee put it best: 'Unlimited vacation is great, but not spending your whole day back from vacation going through Slack messages and emails is even better,'" Hamersley wrote.

To help measure the efficacy of these programs, some companies turn to tools like the ones offered by Limeade, a corporate wellness technology company that sells an employee experience platform. Limeade's platform can track and measure engagement, stress and well-being, and the company has developed machine-learning algorithms that predict burnout as well. "If you have turnover data as well, you can say, historically, these are the type of people who burn out and quit," said Henry Albrecht, CEO and founder of Limeade.

For companies that can't manage to offer a week of rest, Gruttadaro said there are other strategies she has seen work, such as forming employee resource groups focused on mental health or other issues like race, gender and sexual orientation. She also emphasized the importance of support programs such as tele-mental health.

Jarvis, for one, recommends that companies that can offer employees a break at least give it a try and realize that they can always change course based on their employees' feedback. For Lessonly, the decision to focus on employee well-being went a long way. "I had a team member share that she hasn't had a summer break since college," said Jarvis. "When you got that summer break, and you could really step away — that freedom — that's what she related it to."

Climate

Sealed finds a market in home decarbonization

Sealed offers homeowners the chance to save money and help protect the planet.

Sealed is convincing homeowners to look at their HVAC systems and insulation in order to save energy and money.

Photo: Gabe Souza/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Shiny silver panels hug the walls of Andy Frank’s attic; they vaguely remind me of a child’s robot Halloween costume. A sticky-looking foam lines both the gaps in the attic’s floorboards and the roof, plugging up holes where squirrels could have once taken shelter.

The space is positively sweat-inducing, even for the mere minute I have my head poking above the trapdoor.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Now that most organizations are returning to the office, there are varying extremes – some leaders demand that employees return to the office, with some employees revolting and some rejoicing to be together again. On the other hand, some companies have closed physical offices and made remote work permanent; creating a sigh of relief for some employees and creating frustration for others.

Most of us are somewhere in between, trying our best to take a measured approach at building the right hybrid strategy tailored to company culture. Some seemingly have begun to crack the code, while the majority are grappling with the when, how, why, and who of this new hybrid work reality.

Keep Reading Show less
Nathan Coutinho

Nathan Coutinho leads Logitech's global conferencing business strategy and analyst relations. A Swiss company focused on innovation and quality, Logitech designs products and experiences that have an everyday place in people's lives.Coutinho leads strategy and execution of Logitech's video conferencing solutions, from personal solutions to highly-scalable conference rooms.Coutinho has more than 25 years of experience in the IT industry with various roles in executive leadership, consulting, engineering, marketing and technical sales.

Workplace

Experts say tech companies need to prepare for the next SCOTUS decision

HR experts said companies need to be proactive about protections for contraception, privacy and LGBTQ+ rights.

Experts say tech leaders need to start thinking about future Supreme Court rulings.

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Tech companies are still trying to prepare for a post-Roe world. But it might already be time to think about what the Supreme Court is planning next.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade Friday, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that the court should also reconsider rulings protecting contraception and same-sex relationships, citing Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell. If those decisions were ever overruled, it would have massive implications for everyone, but especially for employees living in states where same-sex marriage is at risk of becoming illegal without a federal shield.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Policy

What’s next for tech in a post-Roe world

From employee support to privacy concerns, tech companies play a critical role in what’s to come for abortion access in the U.S.

States banning abortion means that tech will play a critical role in what’s to come for abortion access in the U.S.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The end of Roe v. Wade has sent the world of tech scrambling. Many companies are now trying to quickly figure out how to protect workers in states where abortion will be banned, while also facing potential privacy and legal ramifications.


Here’s a look at tech companies’ roles and responses to the ruling. We will update this page as news and events change.

Keep Reading Show less
Alex Eichenstein

Alex Eichenstein (@alexeichenstein) is Protocol's social media editor. Previously, she managed social media and audience engagement efforts at the Center for Public Integrity. She earned an B.A. in English, women and gender studies and political science from the University of Delaware. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Fintech

You’re thinking about Apple Pay Later all wrong

Apple’s “buy now, pay later” product has a distinctly different distribution strategy that means it doesn’t directly threaten Affirm, Klarna and Afterpay.

Apple Pay Later emerges as a distinctly different product than what Klarna and Affirm offer.

Image: Apple; Protocol

Apple’s entry into the “buy now, pay later” market was one of its worst-kept secrets: Analysts had been predicting the company’s rollout of a pay-later service as early as 2020. The most common read on the move was predictable: Apple was here to smash the competition. The company has a track record of jumping into new sectors late and still managing to come out on top — the iPod came out when there were tons of MP3 players on the market.

But some analysts have a starkly different view. When you look at it under the hood, Apple Pay Later emerges as a distinctly different product than what Klarna and Affirm offer, they say — and one that isn’t much of a market predator.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

Latest Stories
Bulletins