Gini Dietrich

What the Power of Time Off Does for Productivity and Morale

By: Gini Dietrich | February 7, 2019 | 
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Power of Time OffThe other morning, I was standing in my kitchen making a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

While I waited for the bread to toast, I saw a briefing on our Alexa Show that said, “Shorter work week urged.”

Intrigued, I asked Alexa for more information.

What popped up was an article by Richard Branson about how the 9-to-5 workweek has to end as technology makes us more efficient.

He says:

Could people eventually take three and even four day weekends? Certainly. Will job-sharing increase? I think so. People will need to be paid the same or even more for working less time, so they can afford more leisure time. That’s going to be a difficult balancing act to get right, but it can be done. If it works for individuals and works for businesses, everyone would want to spend more time with their loved ones, more time exploring their passions, more time seeing the world outside of an office and more time getting healthy and fit.

Likewise, several years ago, I happened upon an article by Simon Cohen, the founder of Global Tolerance, a communications firm in London.

Titled, “Why I Put My Company On a Year-long Sabbatical,” it talks about how he shut his entire company down for a full year.

This allowed his team to use the time to recharge, freelance (and learn how to run their own business), travel, explore, or follow passions.

His reasoning?

So they could come back even better.

He goes on to say:

The very idea of a sabbatical, a rest from work, comes from the biblical sabbath, and a commandment to stop working the fields every seven years. This is so Mother Nature can renew the fields and help ensure the possibility of future harvests. Businesses have long reaped rewards from biomimicry, the imitation of natural systems to solve human problems. If the flight of pigeons can inspire the first aircraft; termites can provide lessons for energy-efficient buildings; and butterfly wings can influence next-generation phone displays, why shouldn’t we cultivate the idea of fallow fields for our office lives?

Companies That Offer Prolonged Time Off

Allowing prolonged time off isn’t a new concept.

Email marketing company, Emma, provides one-month paid sabbaticals to employees who have been with the company for five years.

Stefan Sagmeister, the founder of a New York City-based design firm, has a very powerful TED talk on the topic.

He closes his company for an entire year every seven years, which provides a different level of creativity that feeds the next seven years’ work.

Rosemary O’Neill famously wrote here several years ago about giving her employees unlimited paid time off (a policy we also have).

European countries work less hours than North American companies and are more productive.

And yet we’re still searching for the elusive work/life balance.

Giving people prolonged time off makes sense—both for morale and for productivity.

I know it seems counterintuitive, but we have found every time someone takes more than a long weekend off, they come back completely refreshed and energized.

I’m a fan.

So Many Questions, Though!

The idea that you would close your company for a year, every seven years, is a bit bold, though.

I have so many questions, such as:

  • Are employees expected to re-join you when you re-open?
  • Do you help them replace their salary for a year?
  • What about benefits? If you don’t have people on payroll, you can’t pay for their benefits, even if you do pay 100% of them (there are law against that).
  • And 401K? If they’re not putting into the program, can they still vest and get profit sharing without skipping a beat?
  • What do you do with your customers/clients for that year?
  • How do you regain momentum after you’ve been closed for a year?
  • How do you fill your pipeline so you re-open with a bang?
  • What about your own salary? Are you living on savings for a year?

So many questions…and I’m not sure it makes sense.

No Work on Weekends

But you can start small, by asking your colleagues not to work on weekends.

I often blog about exercise, downtime, unplugged vacations, and taking a mental break.

This is because I truly believe people are much more productive when they have interests and passions outside of work.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t feel this way when I started my business. I came from a 24/7/365 work culture. The work ethic they instilled in me very early in my career was that of bill, bill, bill…just like an attorney would.

I started my business with the same expectation.

I was concerned with what time people arrived—and left—the office, whether they ate lunch at their desks, and how much time they gave the company during non-business hours.

When we went virtual in November 2011, I was forced to look at things differently. No longer could I see how many hours people were putting in. I had to rely solely on their results to know if they were doing their jobs.

And it changed my mindset completely.

I no longer feel guilty for not working weekends. And, though it took me a long time to get there, I no longer feel guilty for working out during the work day.

The Power of Time Off

Technology was supposed to make our lives easier.

Yes, we can work from a beach, if we want. But how often do we do that?

We’re human beings. We need time off.

If only to recharge our brains, have time to actually think, and be more creative.

Closing down your company for an entire year is risky. Your team isn’t paid, they lose their benefits, your clients have to find another firm, and your cash flow comes to a complete halt.

But the idea that you could start with requiring no work on weekends. And then perhaps do summer hours this year (close at noon on Fridays). Then you get to the point where you can institute three-day weekends.

And suddenly you’re proving Richard Branson right (and your team will love you)!

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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