Employee Time-Off in the Modern Workplace

Future of work advocates, like Scott Burkun and Jacob Morgan, tout that increased time off can actually improve productivity and creativity.

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Future of work advocates, like Scott Berkun and Jacob Morgan, tout that increased time off can actually improve productivity and creativity. Yet clients expect us to meet deadlines as promised, even as the office thins out and email response time lags in the latter part of the year. And getting employees to take time off can be challenging—they may even resist it. So should your agency be concerned with increasing time-off and will this diminish your productivity?

The Harvard Business Review published a study in 2009 that looked at several North American offices of the Boston Consulting Group and found that consultants on teams with predictable time off perceived their work situations more favorably than peers without. Consultancies are often associated with long workweeks and an “always on” lifestyle, but after five months of mandatory, predictable time off during the week, the employees participating in this study increased open communication, learning and development, and provided more value to clients.

In spite of the positive impact of the time-off policy, the researchers were met with much resistance throughout the study. Mandatory time off caused consultants to be concerned “they were putting their careers in jeopardy. Moreover, they either worked [during a mandatory time-off block] and felt guilty, because they were in violation of the experiment, or they didn’t work and felt guilty, because of the stress they thought they were putting on their teammates.”

Balancing time off and work priorities is not just a challenge agency owners and project managers deal with. Sometimes employees themselves are guilty of not taking time off, and their work suffers because of it.

Increase Employee Productivity

Scott Berkun, author of "The Year Without Pants: Wordpress.com and the Future of Work," is a significant contributor to the employee time-off vs. productivity discussion. He recommends the following for companies who want to lead they charge for the future or work:

  • Drop the 40/50/60 hour a week expectation. Treat people like adults.
  • Clarify the results you want from your staff.
  • Increase the number of employee vacation days by 50-100%.
  • Demand everyone still do the same amount of work they already do every calendar year.

We agree with Berkun and believe it is possible to reduce work weeks and increase time off, while expecting the same level of work from your employees. And you’ll also find that the increased autonomy can motivate employees to be more engaged and often will lead to better, more efficient work and overall satisfaction in their work and personal lives.

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