A dog wearing sunglasses while lying on its back in the sand on a beach, symbolising employees getting an extra week off.
Image: © Irina/Stock.adobe.com

Should companies give employees an extra week off?

28 Jun 2021

With several companies giving their staff an extra week of paid leave, HubSpot’s Katie Burke discusses the importance of measures such as this for employee wellbeing.

The last 15 months have undoubtedly been stressful both in and out of work. Pandemic restrictions meant that many lost their jobs, while those still working had to completely readjust where and how they worked.

According to resilience coach Siobhán Murray, burnout can get worse under the current circumstances. And the increase in virtual meetings can lead to ‘Zoom fatigue’, which may be linked to mental exhaustion and can take a heavy toll on work-life balance.

To combat these issues, some companies are giving their employees a collective break in the form of an extra week off to recover from this stress and exhaustion.

Earlier this month, online fashion tech company Zalando announced that it is giving its 14,500 staff an extra five days off in August to allow them to recover from the increased pandemic workload.

The company behind dating app Bumble also said it would give its employees “a paid, fully offline one-week vacation” to combat “collective burnout”.

And now tech giant HubSpot has announced plans to give employees a collective break to deal with the additional stress and burnout that has manifested over the past year.

HubSpot’s chief people officer, Katie Burke, told Siliconrepublic.com that when the company’s executive leadership team met in March, it was clear that the steps the company had taken to reduce feelings of stress among its workforce were necessary but not sufficient.

“The data showed our employees still felt stressed from more than a year in a global pandemic, so we challenged ourselves to come up with an option that really showed our employees we were not just willing to listen, but to act on their feedback,” she said.

From 5 July, most of the company’s employees will be taking the week off to recharge as part of the ‘HubSpot Unplugged’ initiative.

‘The clear signal that you care goes a long way to showing employees and their families that you care about them as human beings’
– KATIE BURKE

“We have divided our approach into two components: short-term responses and long-term solutions. We know that working in a high-growth tech company can often lead people to feel pressure to participate in hustle culture, and we want to actively work to be a part of changing that perception and reality,” said Burke.

Short-term responses in HubSpot over the past year included Q&As with leading experts to talk about coping strategies for the pandemic, increased yoga and meditation programming, and programming for children with certified teachers to help give parents a break from overseeing online school.

Burke said long-term planning includes a significant investment in workplace mental health platform Modern Health and Fridays with no internal meetings. “Rest and recharging time will remain a part of our long-term commitment and culture post-pandemic, as they are critical to our long-term success,” she said.

“We also held a focused section in our regular meetings for director-level HubSpotters and above on handling burnout and ways to prevent it, to ensure we set the tone as leaders in the business on balance and life-work integration.”

Advice for leaders

While giving employees extra time off might seem like a logistical nightmare for some companies, Burke said it’s important that leaders look in the mirror before deciding that they can’t afford to give – or take – the time off.

“It’s easy to say employees are feeling stressed and burnt out. The truth is, we all are, and all of us would benefit from some time away from screens and truly unplugged, including me,” she said.

“Leaders may feel that taking a week off is impossible, that it’ll be bad for business or it’s too hard to figure out logistics. Truth is, a week in the grand scheme of things is not a long period of time, and the clear signal that you care goes a long way to showing employees and their families that you care about them as human beings.”

She added that it’s important to “walk the walk” when it comes to employee wellbeing.

“It’s not enough to tell employees: ‘It’s OK to prioritise your mental health.’ You have to be willing to be vulnerable and imperfect yourself. What you do is more important than what you say on this topic,” she said.

“Second, I would just say that building great companies is a marathon, not a sprint. So while it can feel like you can’t miss a split second of the action, you’re building trust and connection with employees with every step you take to value them as humans, so it’s well worth the time and effort.”

Advice for employees

While collective breaks and extra paid time off are important considerations for leaders, what can employees do in the meantime to manage their stress levels?

Burke recommended a podcast with Brené Brown interviewing Emily and Amelia Nagoski, the authors of the book Burnout, which she also recommended reading. “It really fundamentally changed our thinking about this issue,” she said.

“It talks about important gender differences regarding stress and that to truly feel any relief you need to ‘complete the stress cycle’. Understanding scientifically what actually drives that sensation was really helpful for all of us in ensuring we didn’t just recommend more time away, but also that people work to process the emotions driving their stress.”

She also said it’s important that employees, leaders and managers should all be kind to themselves during this time. “Everyone is feeling enormous uncertainty as the world opens back up in big and small ways, and I think most of us have felt elevated stress for more than a year now. So don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect or have it all figured out – I certainly don’t.”

Burke also said that when it comes to navigating stress, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. “I used to feel a lot of pressure to make things that work for other people work for me, like meditation. Now, I just incorporate more of what works for me and cheer others on with what works for them,” she said.

“Wellness shouldn’t be yet another thing where you feel pressure to do things a certain way.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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