/ Guide

Time off should really be time off

by eelco

A few days ago a friend, who runs a business, told me how he is about to take his first vacation in five years. I told him that it's nice for him and how stupid it is he postponed it for more than four years. Don’t be like him. Not as a founder. Not as an employee.

Time off from work is important. Not just the longer, multiple days stints, but also shorter ones: in the evenings or weekends (or whenever you don't work). There is more to life. Easier said than done, right? Even more so if you are the founder of the company. But the importance of time off from work should not be dismissed so easily.

Stop using the recharge analogy for vacations

Recharging as an analogy is toxic. One shouldn't be completely depleted because of work and ready to 'crush it again' after vacation.

“Stop using the recharge analogy. It is toxic. One shouldn't be completely depleted because of work and ready to 'crush it again' after vacation.”

Vacation, taking more than five days away from work, is só important. More time off is always better than less time off. Who would’ve guessed? But it’s easier said than done. As a manager, you need to set an example in this. Take real time off every day and go on vacation every couple of months (this doesn't mean you have to a tropical island every time!).
By using the recharge analogy you put work in the first place. After all, if the only reason they need to take time off is so they are 'fresh for work' again, they don't do it for a healthier life. Push for more than that. Discuss these ideas. Make it part of your company culture: time off is not just to crush it again at work, but to become a healthier person.

Notifications are a no-no

Make it part of your company culture to disable any kind of notification. Out of sight, out of mind. Only allow the “red dot” to appear when one is working. This is also a key value of the new async companies.
Explain the positive benefits of being away from a screen and to take up hobby's away from that shiny laptop. Be free to explore a new hobby away from a screen. To exercise. To spend time with your loved ones. To be in nature. When you are not notified of any so-called important events, you can indulge and enjoy yourself better into whatever you are doing.

The only limitation is a minimum amount of vacation days

It might feel counterintuitive to force a minimum amount of days off instead of a maximum amount. It might even feel wrong to force someone to take days off. But limited days off are a thing from the past. Tracking days off are a thing from the past. As a next-generation company, you can trust your employees, they are not just working for the money. They will be as happy to take a break as they are working. Also, trust your employees to know when they need a break. And likewise trust they won't take advantage off it (although multiple talks with founders providing unlimited off days, tell me most take fewer days off now).

“Limited days off are a thing from the past. Tracking days off are a thing from the past.”

Not just all play

Apart from the positive impact on your health, it can be really beneficial for your company for everyone to take more time off. For you as the founder to gain new insights for the products, long-term goals and to solve any longstanding issues. And this holds true for employees as well. Since work is an important part of anyone lives, it would be silly to block any thoughts about work. Rather embrace it as something positive, but don't act upon it until you get back to work. Have your thoughts, but don't talk about it (with the people around you). So: thoughts are okay to have, but it's a no-no to immediately act upon them, e.g. email an advisor, message a coworker, etc.

'Office time' to learn new skills

Many next-generation companies employ smart, autodidact people. They taught themselves most they know and they like to learn new things. It's how they keep things interesting for themselves, it's how they stay interested in their expertise field. As a manager or leader of such teams, you should embrace this. Ask every employee what it is they like to learn in the next weeks and months and give them the freedom to block time off to learn a new thing instead of working on the company’s products. Not in their 'free time', but in the office or wherever they are working from. You could opt-in for 'free time' for the last two hours of a working day or allow a full working day per week. Whatever option fits your company best.

Push for free time to be free time. No "checking in", no monitoring, no quick email answering. Away from work means away from work. Set an example for your team, you get positive energy out of your work, but taking real time away from work is really important too.

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