Workplace

Forcing your employees to unplug for a week is harder (and easier) than it looks

Scheduling a week off for the whole company to unplug got popular in the first two years of the pandemic. But is it right for your company?

Inflatable palm tree in an office.

Scheduling a companywide week off has stuck around as one of the tech industry’s favorite pandemic-born wellness trends.

Photo: Jetta Productions/Walter Hodges via Getty Images

Call it a recharge week, a wellness week or collective leave: Scheduling a companywide week off has stuck around as one of the tech industry’s favorite pandemic-born wellness trends. With everyone offline at once, employees get to unplug without experiencing Slack FOMO.

A synchronized week off wouldn’t work everywhere: Just ask execs at fast-scaling startups. How do you know if it would work for your team, and if it would, how do you implement it well?

Growing too fast to slow down

“I haven’t even broached the subject with our founders,” said Amy Zimmerman, chief people officer at the logistics fintech startup Relay Payments. “I feel pretty confident that they would agree that it’s not a thing that we’re going to do at this point.”

Companies in “hyper-growth mode” like Relay may not be able to afford to leave customers in the lurch for a week. The 130-person company started the year with just one product on the market, Zimmerman said, but has aspirations to go to market with multiple new products and expand to 300 employees by the end of the year.

Twitch and Hootsuite, two more-mature companies that started offering a synchronized week off during the pandemic, address this staffing problem by keeping a core group of employees on call or on the clock during that week. That skeleton crew takes its week off at a different time so that customers and vendors aren’t left hanging.

At Hootsuite, this worked well enough last summer that the social media management company is planning its second Wellness Week in late August, so that its North American employees can tack on Labor Day at the end of it.

“We gave our customers the heads up. We gave our stakeholders and vendors [warning] so that everybody knew that we were going off beforehand,” said Tara Ataya, Hootsuite’s chief people officer. It was worth it: 97% of Hootsuite employees said being able to disconnect at the same time as their colleagues was valuable.

How to plan for a week off

The toughest part of implementing the week off is planning for it, Ataya said. Hootsuite leaders looked at every week they were considering to make sure they wouldn’t be missing a deadline, which could leave some employees or teams feeling like they couldn’t take that time off.

Hootsuite executives started discussing their first July Wellness Week during the first quarter of last year, and publicized it in March 2021 so that employees, customers and vendors had a few months’ notice, Ataya said.

“It’s a really important piece to consider if companies are thinking about doing this: just making sure you give everybody enough time in advance,” Ataya said. “Also just from a personal standpoint, so that people can actually use the week and do something that matters.”

Now that Hootsuite has all the materials and communications set up, Ataya expects that the Wellness Week will require much less planning this year.

Both Twitch and Hubspot also decided to offer a week off in July. Spring and summer proved to be a popular time to schedule a synchronized break last year, and a number of companies already offer a week off around the winter holidays, either officially or unofficially.

Bumble offers two company-wide weeks off per year. LinkedIn has given its U.S. employees a week off in July and a week off in December for years, and added a third “RestUp” week last April, “during the height of the pandemic,” but decided not to take another week off this spring.

“RestUp! Week came at a time when we needed it most,” LinkedIn’s vice president of global talent, Nina McQueen, told Protocol in an email. “Although we have no plans to add a RestUp! Week in 2022, we still have our two paid shutdowns in July and December and will continue to explore ways to support employees.”

That could include half-day Fridays in July and August in addition to LinkedIn’s periodic no-meeting days, according to McQueen.

How do synchronized weeks off affect PTO?

Companies that offer a synchronized week off are quick to point out that they also offer traditional (or, more often in tech, unlimited) vacation policies that aren’t affected by these shutdown weeks.

“We actually do encourage employees to take time off in addition to the time off that we’re providing for the synchronous time off,” said Lauren Nunes, chief people officer at Twitch. “Our philosophy is that you need to figure out what’s best for you, and take that time off.”

Hootsuite’s vacation policy starts at four weeks per year, and Twitch, Bumble, Hubspot and LinkedIn all offer unlimited PTO in addition to their synchronized weeks off. Still, it’s easy to imagine that employees (or managers) might schedule less PTO as a result.

And for companies, maybe that’s part of the appeal. But for some HR executives, that’s one downside to the practice of offering a synchronized week off: Employees may feel discouraged from planning time off on their own timelines.

Coinbase, for example, now offers four recharge weeks per year, and encourages employees to keep their vacation time within those weeks. (Though, the company said when it announced the policy in January, “we know that’s not always possible, and that’s OK.”)

“That may or may not sit well with employees, because people want to have the flexibility to take time off when they truly need it, not being told to take time off,” said Gia Ganesh, the vice president of People and Culture at Florence Healthcare.

Florence offers unlimited vacation with a three-week minimum, but decided against offering a synchronized week off, Ganesh said. Although she sees the benefits to having the whole company unplug at once, Ganesh said that for Florence, a recharge week wouldn’t give employees anything they don’t already have.

Really, that’s the key when it comes to deciding whether it’s worth it to offer a benefit like this, Ataya said.

“First, listen to your people and figure out if this is what they need,” Ataya said. “Leaning in and actually having that conversation with your people is really important first.”

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