How One Company Is Making Independence Day an All Week Vacation For Everyone

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Jun 29, 2018
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Since the early days of Henry Ford and assembly lines that helped establish the 40 hour work week, the majority of American workers have been diligently earning their wages through the typical nine to five grind.

That started to change as work became more “knowledge” based. Just as Henry Ford’s workweek strategy changed and defined how Americans worked for most of the 20th century, advances in technology are reshaping today’s American work culture. In 2018 computers, Wi-Fi connections, and email alerts dictate how and where we work. Even when we’re away from the office, we carry a living connection to work in our pocket nearly 24/7.

These days, it’s so much easier for us to overwork ourselves without even realizing it, despite all the progress that’s been made to prevent us from doing exactly that. For example, a national Gallup survey showed that in 2014 American workers averaged 47 hours per week, or 9.4 hours of work per day, with workers in competitive industries like finance and tech working upwards of 60 hours a week as a rule.

This is much more staggering when you also consider the fact that there are over 700 million days of unused vacation in the United States. In other words, upwards of 52% of Americans have unused vacation. When you look at the data collected from Project: Time Off, it’s pretty clear that American workers find it hard to take vacation time away from work. The main reason? Employees are worried they’ll seem less dedicated or that they’ll return to a mountain of work when they get back to the office.

Basically, American workers have a vacation problem.

As a tech company ourselves, PayScale and its 440 employees are not immune to the fears associated with taking vacation time away from work. And one thing we’re admittedly bad at is totally unplugging from work (even if we’re on vacation). We all have customers, technical development, financial priorities and deadlines. There is hardly any time to waste.

But with the upcoming holiday, we decided that now is the perfect time for an all-company, week-long paid vacation from work.

Enter Independence week

Declaring an Independence Week, most of our 440 employees will take the entire July 4th week off. Paid. And since we have unlimited PTO, this doesn’t count against anyone. Because we are a 24/7 technology company with customers who will be at work, we’ll have a team on-call over Independence Week to handle any urgent issues. They’ll take another week off. We prepared everyone for our week of rest with a very intentional communication strategy, notifying customers of the office closure and sharing the why behind Independence Week. The feedback we received from customers was overwhelmingly positive.

The move was inspired by Alex Soojun-Kim Pang’s book called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less which was created after the author realized that he was able to get more work done on sabbatical than at work. In his book, Pang challenges the way that advances in technology (specifically communications) have affected the way we work, often for the worse. In an interview with The Guardian, Pang explains:

“I think we have tended to be less critical and questioning of the virtues of new technologies, particularly communication technologies, than perhaps we should. After a generation’s experience with email, a decade’s experience with smartphones, we are discovering that these technologies do not automatically make us more productive or give us more time with our kids. Rather, they have tended to grind work down to a fine powder that spreads out right through our day. Is it possible to dial this back?”

PayScale’s reasoning behind independence week is two pronged:

First, Independence Week is for our employees. We hope that by providing a week of collective rest, PayScale is giving employees the confidence and support they need to totally disconnect from work for an entire week.

Second, Independence week is for our customers. We firmly believe that our employees will come back to PayScale after the break feeling recharged and refreshed.

The benefits of collective rest

The benefits of collective rest cannot be overstated. Pang explains:

 “If you don’t care about your mental development or your body, then forget about sleep. Otherwise sleep is the original rest. Scientists still haven’t found the one thing that explains why if you have a nervous system you need to sleep, and even if you don’t have a nervous system you need to sleep – plants do something similar. But it’s incredibly important for brain maintenance. When we sleep the brain takes time to clear out plaques and toxins that have built up during the hours we are awake. Even though we’re not aware of it, sleep also helps us push forward on questions and problems we’re working on during our waking hours.”

There are more benefits to rest than just catching up on sleep. A 2016 report  from Project: Time Off found that workers who took 11 or more vacation days were more likely to have received a raise or a bonus in the previous three years than workers who took 10 or fewer days. At the end of the day, rest matters for your body, your mind, your wallet and your business.

What you can do

Wondering how easy (or hard) it might be to introduce something similar in your own organization? Using PayScale’s own approach, here are a few of the things we recommend incorporating into your collective rest strategy:

Address vacation shaming — It seems simple, but organizations and upper management need to communicate to all employees that they are not and will not be perceived as less dedicated if they choose to go on vacation. Let them know that it’s a value of the company to get rest and come back to the office recharged and refreshed.

Make re-entry easier — In other words, make the first day back from collective rest easier on your employees. Avoid scheduling meetings or new assignments on the first day back. Allow employees to work from home if needed and give them the time and space they need to adjust back into the routine of work.

Managers can proactively foster rest — Empower your managers to identify and talk to employees who take less than two weeks of vacation in a year. Your manager should encourage those employees to go on vacation and also remind employees who are on vacation to stay unplugged (if you notice communications from them during their time off). Lastly, managers should set an example for employees that shows it’s okay to take time off. If certain managers aren’t taking a lot of time off, it’s likely that the team reporting up to them doesn’t either.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.