Why we need to take more time off from work

Some companies offer employees unlimited paid time off, while others shut down for month- or year-long sabbaticals. Why? They recognize the importance of a break.

I happened upon an article by Simon Cohen, founder of Global Tolerance, which intrigued me.

It was titled: “Why I put my company on a year-long sabbatical.”

On April 1, 2013, the entire company shut down for a full year. Cohen’s team used the time to recharge, freelance (and learn how to run their own businesses), travel, explore or follow passions.

Cohen’s reasoning?

Employees would come back even better.

He goes on to say:

“The very idea of a sabbatical, a rest from work, comes from the biblical sabbath, and a commandment to stop working the fields every seven years. This is so Mother Nature can renew the fields and help ensure the possibility of future harvests. Businesses have long reaped rewards from biomimicry, the imitation of natural systems to solve human problems. If the flight of pigeons can inspire the first aircraft; termites can provide lessons for energy-efficient buildings; and butterfly wings can influence next-generation phone displays, why shouldn’t we cultivate the idea of fallow fields for our office lives?”

Companies that offer prolonged time off

Allowing prolonged time off isn’t new.

Emma, an email marketing company, provides one-month paid sabbaticals to employees who have been with the company for five years.

Stefan Sagmeister, the founder of a New York City design firm, gave a powerful TED talk on the topic. He closes his company for a year every seven years, which provides employees with a different level of creativity that feeds the next seven years of work.

Rosemary O’Neill wrote about giving her employees unlimited paid time off (a policy we also have at my company, Arment Dietrich).

European countries work fewer hours than North American companies, and are more productive. Yet we’re still searching for the elusive work/life balance.

No work on weekends

I often write about exercise, downtime, unplugged vacations and taking mental breaks. This is because I believe people are much more productive when they have interests and passions outside of work.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t feel this way when I started my business. I came from a 24/7/365 work culture. The work ethic that culture instilled in me early in my career was that of bill, bill, bill—just like an attorney.

I started my business with the same expectation.

I was concerned with what time people arrived and left, whether they ate lunch at their desks and how much time they gave the company during non-business hours.

I was forced to look at things differently in November 2011 when my firm went virtual. I could no longer know how many hours people put in. I had to rely solely on their results to know if they were doing their jobs.

It changed my mindset completely.

We recently instituted a “no work on weekends” policy because my team members are so dedicated and like each other so much that they help each other with projects on the weekends.

That’s awesome, and I love that they like each another enough to help on weekends, but it’s also beginning to cause a bit of burnout.

The power of time off

Technology was supposed to make our lives easier.

Yes, we can work from the beach if we want. But how often do we do that?

We’re human beings. We need time off, even if it’s only to recharge, have time to actually think and be more creative.

Closing down your company for a year is risky. Your team isn’t paid, they lose their benefits, your clients have to find another firm and your cash flow halts.

It will be interesting to see what happens for Global Tolerance come April 1 of this year.

It’s likely not something we’ll do at Arment Dietrich. But because we have unlimited paid time off, if someone wants to take a month-long sabbatical and she has exceeded her goals, she will have my blessing and be paid to do it.

Time off—even if it’s just one day each week—will help you with your work/life balance. I promise.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.


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