Take the week off

I ended 2022 pretty bummed with myself. I’d taken two weeks off work and knowing that January is going to be crazy busy, the ‘plan’ was to use the last week of December to return to work, clear emails, leverage the quiet time when everyone else is on vacation, and get ahead. Unfortunately, I spent half of my vacation and the entire last week of December being so unwell that I couldn’t get out of bed or look at a screen for longer than five minutes without my eyes watering. The flu having arrived ‘out of scheduled hours’ meant that not only had my well laid plans been disrupted but I’d now be running behind as the doctor assured me that I would also need the entire first week of January to recover. My theme for January has now moved to ‘Recovery’ vs the original ‘Accelerate’.  

It wasn’t until I read this article about Patagonia shutting down for the week that I realized that it wasn’t missing new year parties or the ill health that had bothered me the past few weeks. The number one reason I’d broken into tears twice in the last seven days was because I was stressed about ‘how I was going to catch up with all the work’. My recovery plan focused more on the techniques on sequencing work tasks and clearing my inbox than focusing on my body and mind. It took me one article and breaking down into ridiculous laughter to realize that – forget about ‘mental health’; my current approach to work didn’t even allow me the space to take care of my physical wellbeing. The urge to toughen it out and get ahead was so strong that I’d happily sacrifice my health.

The aforementioned article talks about how Patagonia, a company that dominated news headlines for all the right reasons in 2022, had shut down its entire operations including retail stores and warehouses from December 25th through January 1. While most retailers would balk at losing out on revenue during peak shopping season, Patagonia decided to put this sign up – “We believe in quality of life. Our stores will be closed December 25th thru January 1”.

Shutting the company down for a week is a nice perk to have. It is a practice now adopted by an increasing number of organizations. As the article states, ‘Sometimes doing the right thing is going to cost you, but that doesn’t change that it’s the right thing. If you only do the right thing when it makes you money or benefits you, well, you’re doing it wrong’. You may lose some revenue but there are plenty of opportunities to catch up.

How would having my organization shutting down for the end of the year have helped me? To start with, I’d have felt a little less guilty at having fallen ill at an inopportune moment. Yet, I am aware that the entire organization shutting down every time I catch the flu is the kind of wish only granted in dreams. So yes, while I think every organization should shut down one week a year, there’s obviously more that needs to be done.

The organizational culture needs to support time off in a way that taking a week off does not translate into all your work sitting for when you return but instead is taken over by someone else. Work is planned assuming a 50-75% utilization vs 90-95%. There also needs to be psychological safety in prioritizing physical and mental health. I will admit that I do not have the answer to how we get to that wonderful place, but there is one thing I do know –the day an organization can bravely claim that employees can take a week off without any side effect including increased workload the week of return is the day that they should immediately update their total benefits package with that as line one!

Our individual role in turning this into a reality shouldn’t be minimized either. It took me a fair bit of courage to adjust my schedule to give me the time to recover. We need to learn to take time off when we need it and set clear boundaries on what we are and are not willing to do while on time off or on reduced hours. As team members, we should respect those boundaries and not be unwilling to roll up our own sleeves, without one asking, to make those boundaries possible. ‘Without one asking’ being the key words.

One should never have to return from a vacation or any form of time off daunted by the day they return to work. Period.

Now if that is a reality in your team and your organization, write it in bold, add it in your job description and in your total rewards package. That is how rare something that should be normal is. Meanwhile, I will return to my ever-growing task list that now includes ‘recovery’ right at the top.

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