I recently read an article from Entrepreneur about a company called Getaway that has mandatory vacation policies. An interview with the company’s CEO, Jon Staff, is included with the article.
He expresses how he’s incorporated vacation time – that is, ensuring employees are taking all of their time – into performance reviews. He has mandatory policies forbidding communication after 7:00 PM or on weekends. As he says, he has to train employees to not work:
And by the way, I really had to train people out of working — or showing they were working — on nights or weekends. I thought it’d be enough to say, “Boss says, don’t work at night or on weekends unless it’s really urgent.” It actually took months and months to get those first few colleagues to quit calling me on Saturday at 9 a.m.
This illustrates a distinct reality in the American workplace – we’re trained to never be fully offline. As a result of technology, our coworkers and superiors know that we have the capacity to reach out or be reached even when on PTO. We have a device in our hand that allows us to look at documents, read and answer emails, call, text, or chat. As a result, we feel beholden to that even when we’re technically out of the office.
Now, I don’t agree with much of what Staff says in the article. It helps me relieve stress to check my email, especially when I’m out of the office. I like to know that nothing is burning down. Maybe that means I’m not fully decompressing, but I wouldn’t be able to decompress if I thought something serious might be happening at work.
There’s no doubt, however, that the connected workplace means that vacation time rarely means a total departure from work. If we’re working under the assumption that that’s a bad thing – and studies show that a lack of vacation actually decreases work performance – then what is the role of the company in ensuring people don’t work?
Jon Staff took it too far, I think. In essence, his policy is a show of force, and not everyone will respond well to having to shut down for days on end. Still, many companies don’t take it far enough – they issue “unlimited vacation” with no distinctions, so employees are forced to come up with their own definition of unlimited. At least with a set number you have an idea of what the company finds acceptable.
Then there’s the idea of shutting down when work hours are out. Should the company ban communication at a certain time? Will that really reduce stress?
I don’t have the answer, I just think it’s an interesting debate. The world is changing thanks to technology, and the workplace is changing along with it. Many outdated practices have carried over from the historical workplace – could vacations be one of them? Is there a better system or solution than the typical PTO that needs to be approved by a manager? Just because we can be reached when we’re out of office, does that mean we should be?
Furthermore, is it up to the employer to tell employees how much to stay connected? That’s a slippery slope, if so – it’s difficult to measure and manage policies on staying in touch while out of the office. Usually these things are unwritten – but maybe only because our means to be connected are so new that no one has written them down yet.
It will be interesting to see how these things evolve in the coming years. What do you think should happen? Leave your ideas in the comments below.