We have been trudging against the compounding stress and exhaustion of nearly 18 months of living through this pandemic, and the overarching result is the condition of collective burnout.
Parents with school-aged children at home have been completely drained by trying to balance full-time jobs, remote schooling, and caregiving, while other workers wrestle with apathy or loss of motivation as they cope with loss, grief, and feelings of uncertainty as they leave thankless jobs that they clung to during the pandemic.
As a primary care doctor wrote in The Atlantic recently, “The symptoms of burnout have become medical… the work of living through a pandemic has been making us sick,” and it’s causing workers to quit their jobs en masse. Just this June, approximately 3.9 million workers left their jobs, marking the third consecutive month of unusually high turnover.
However, to combat the mass fatigue of employees some companies, including LinkedIn, Hootsuite, Mozilla, and Bumble, have come up with an unorthodox solution to burnout: completely shutting down the office for a week.
Vacations should be an easy sell. Hardworking people who are deserving of some time to relax shouldn’t have to be convinced to go (and stay) offline for a week, but the reality is that detaching entirely from work is difficult. Even during time off we impulsively continue to check work emails, fearing having to play catch-up once we’re back in the office. However, if workers knew that absolutely nothing was going on at work without them, then there’s no reason to cultivate feelings of guilt or trepidation about not working.
“Everyone was just getting increasing Zoom fatigue and feeling the stress and burnout of the year that we’ve all had, and increasing difficulty separating work and home,” says Tariq Shaukat, president of Bumble. “So, we started thinking: What do we do? Do we give people more time off?”
The first attempt at addressing employee burnout was implementing “focus Friday,” which was one designated Friday per month where employees would be free of meetings, emails, and Slack messages. This worked well, but it dawned on them that “the constant background noise of the company… was preventing people from really, truly unplugging,” Shaukat explains. “So that led us to this idea of shutting down the company for a week.”
This summer, Bumble trialed company-wide time off for one week, and based on its success, has now introduced a policy that will shut down the office two weeks per year.
The team “actually gained a lot of creativity and productivity… because they were so recharged.” On top of this, Bumble is granting unlimited vacation time to every employee, no matter where they’re based. The new policy also includes mandatory minimums so that workers don’t feel discouraged from taking time off and are sure to get the rest that they need.
Of course, since the concept of shutting down an entire company for a week is still new, there are some details that need to be ironed out. Shaukat admits that selecting the best two weeks for a company-wide vacation is a logistical challenge as Bumble’s employees work out of several countries and everyone’s schedules need to be coordinated.
In fact, it wasn’t possible for all of Bumble’s workers to go on vacation when they trialed the idea in June because, along with its sister company Badoo, Bumble has more than 40 million monthly users who need to be attended. This meant that some of the company’s operations staff had to continue providing customer support, though they were granted a different week off.
Flexible vacation policies and company-wide shut-downs may not be a perfect solution yet, but it feels like a step in the right direction. Hopefully, as we eventually move past the pandemic, we will learn to value quality rest as a part of our products on the whole.