Most people look forward to the holidays for rest and relaxation, but what they don’t often realize is how much time off impacts time at work.
“Vacations are vital for restoring energy and focus to the workplace, as well as enjoyment and passion for your work,” said Dr. Joseph Siegler, psychiatrist and executive coach.
While some employees still struggle to eke out a few days off every Christmas, other managers are beginning to realize that time away from work can open up your brain to new ideas and give you the space you need to come back rejuvenated.
“Part of peak performance is having the rest needed to rebuild your energy,” Siegler said. Monitoring energy levels and knowing when you need to stop and take a break or go home altogether is part of that self-knowledge that makes for a truly effective worker. A change of scenery, contrary to popular belief, is also good for an energy boost.
“Research has now definitely shown that you are much more productive if you change it up, one night at the library, one night at Starbucks, one night at your kitchen table is better for your mindset,” Siegler said.
If you are always in the same spot, day after day, there’s no reason to be at peak because there is no change. Also, it’s easier to get bored and waste time. Not only does this argument validate some theories on flexible work locations, but it also drives home the need to take time off and go somewhere new.
Some companies have taken the new trends to heart, so much so that they’ve instituted a “free time off policy,” meaning employees are free to take as much time off as they think they need and whenever they need it. A recent blog in Forbes by Bloomfire CEO Craig Malloy explained that at his company, the free time off policy assumes that employees act like mature, responsible adults, and so far, they haven’t abused it.
However, experts say this seems like something only a company with significant monetary resources could afford.
“People need parameters; it needs to be a compromise between the employee and the company, not a free-for-all,” Siegler said.
While free time off might be far in the future for most of the working population, other companies are extrapolating on the idea of taking a break from regular duties to explore a passion or interest during work hours. These projects are inspired by Google and 3M’s concept of 20 percent time, where employees can spend 20 percent of their working hours on a project of their own interests. Much like a sabbatical for professors, employees are still working for the company just on interest-based projects.
For example, Snowflake Software has instituted ShipIt Days, where once every quarter, employees take a day and a half to explore an innovative project idea or product as teams.
After building out their product for a full work day, they present it to the company and employees vote on the best project.
“We’ve got a really good creative team, so one thing we like to do every few months is give them an outlet for that creativity,” said Ian Painter, Snowflake’s managing director.
“By removing all possible constraints, whether those be business, project or even technology-based, the team can flex their coding muscles, explore new techniques and show us that pretty much anything is possible,” said Cat Shilcock, marketing communications manager at Snowflake. Developers can work on items that might not be top priority or are “wish list” ideas. Sometimes, a radical idea will win the spotlight and make it into the products, according to Shilcock.
“That’s a smart thing companies are doing with their knowledge workers. You expect so much with them that it’s important to give them some freedom and room to innovate,” Siegler said.
This in-work hack day seems unique to technology companies with developers, but it could be a way for any type of company to increase engagement and innovation. The critical thing is not to confuse working on a passion-related project with vacation time.
“Companies need to be really clear about how they communicate these options and make sure that employees are still getting the time off that they need,” said Siegler.
Mary Camille Izlar is an editorial intern at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.