Innovative employers are offering more downtime, flexibility and wellness perks

Innovative employers are offering more downtime, flexibility and wellness perks

04/11/2021

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Last November, Justin Churchill traveled around the US for six weeks, but the Jersey City, New Jersey, software engineer didn’t touch his unlimited vacation time. Instead, he took a sabbatical, no questions asked.

At his work-management platform company Asana, employees qualify for a paid sabbatical after completing four consecutive years of active, full-time employment. The only requirement involves informing your boss three months prior to leaving. It’s also unnecessary to provide a reason.

“The sabbatical cleared my plate and gave me a chance to not only recharge, but also to restart at a more sustainable pace,” said Churchill. Habits picked up during the hiatus, such as turning notifications off on his phone and reviving a love of playing piano, have remained, even now that he is back at work.

“Spending time on piano is good for staying connected to my creative side as opposed to my logical one — that balance makes me a happier person,” he said. “I’d say the same about the social connections I nurtured during my sabbatical, too.”

Employers are championing initiatives like paid sabbaticals, job sharing, 9-day fortnights, monetary bonuses for taking time off, and even Zoom-free Fridays. Through June, Google is piloting a “well-being” day — when workers take four vacation days, they receive an additional paid day off that doesn’t count toward their paid time off (up to 25 vacation days per year based on tenure).

Still, the US is not at a European’s “work to live” mentality yet — this fall, Spain will pilot a national 32-hour, four-day workweek while keeping salaries intact.

Greg McKeown, author of “Effortless: Make it Easier To Do What Matters Most” (Currency), out April 27, said, “We’ve been conditioned to believe not only that burnout is necessary for success, but that it’s a badge of honor. This leads so many people to adopt an unhealthy ‘live to work’ mentality. But we’ve been sold a bill of goods. What we need instead is a new paradigm: a healthy mindset where we ‘work to live.”

A few weeks ago, Marissa Esposito, associate account manager at Acceleration Partners, an affiliate marketing agency in Hamilton, New Jersey, returned to work more relaxed and sharper than ever after unplugging for one week and delegating to colleagues. She read, hiked, and enjoyed spa treatments, since her company offers an annual allowance of up to $750 for wellness activities like gym memberships and massages.

“It’s nice knowing your company’s not just telling you to take time off. They back it up with that paid bonus,” said Esposito. After enjoying this time off, she felt refreshed returning to work. “It reinvigorates you. You’re excited to jump back into things.”

Another way to enjoy life first, work second, involves controlling your schedule, creating boundaries and sticking to them. According to 2020 data from global staffing firm Robert Half, 79 percent of respondents said their job allows for so-called “windowed work,” breaking up the day into chunks of business and personal time, with 73 percent of those respondents saying it allows for greater productivity and control.
Christine Andrukonis, founding and senior partner of Notion Consulting, a global change-leadership consultancy firm in Times Square, said, “Employees will deliver their optimal performance when they feel empowered to work where, when, and how they work best.”

In November, global information technology consulting firm Avanade, based in the Flatiron District, launched a pilot whereby participating employees created their own schedules. “It isn’t work and then life,” said Caroline Fanning, chief people officer at Avanade. “It’s completely integrated. It’s about creating more sustained patterns that suit you — work hours that suit your needs best.”

Laura Anderson, employed in talent acquisition at Avanade, decided to work from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. On Mondays, she’s offline getting weekly massages, monthly chiropractic treatments, and helping her aging parents. Empowered and relaxed, she’s more productive. Analytical tools revealed she actually accomplished more in four days than she did in five.

“It has changed my life,” Anderson said. “How could it not make somebody happier? The day is wonderful. My favorite pair of pajamas says, ‘Yay, it’s Monday says no one ever.’ I literally took a black marker and crossed it out. It says, ‘Yay, it’s Monday says me.”

Unplugging to nourish our personal lives should, well, be treated like a job. “Relaxing is a responsibility,” said McKeown.

“It is as important as being committed to great results. When we have had a chance to rest and rejuvenate, we perform better. We make better decisions, we think outside the box, and we can see solutions we have not seen before.”

As for Avanade’s pilot program, Fanning said it’s here to stay. “Absolutely. Life is for living, not working, at the end of the day.”

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