A few weeks ago, I had a LinkedIn post go unexpectedly viral. It wasn’t something I planned given the original post had two typos; but, clearly, the message resonated. I shared our decisions to give our employees Fridays off in May. While I’ve seen many companies share similar posts over the past few weeks, the key takeaway is not “give your employees more time off.” Instead, it’s about understanding what your team really needs and using that knowledge to make bold decisions.
Feedback is the foundation
As people experts who help companies diagnose and solve their biggest engagement problems, we use data to inform decision-making. Every quarter, we leverage our own engagement survey to gather feedback from our people—to understand their motivations and gain clarity on what is blocking them from bringing their best to work every day. This quarter was no different. Just because our world has been turned upside down doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to our employees. In fact, it’s even more important than ever to get that objective understanding about how our teams have been affected.
In these surveys, we measure against seventeen drivers of engagement that provide the roadmap for which actions will effectively address engagement challenges. The key is finding two or three drivers of the seventeen to focus on to create meaningful business outcomes. This focus creates alignment for the executive teams and ensures real action is taken.
Uncovering employee burnout
Emplify hasn’t been immune to the effects of COVID-19; our executive team was prepared for drastic shifts in the data. Companywide, we clearly saw two drivers dip into the red—capacity and rest.
- Capacity: The organization enables employees to feel they possess the emotional and psychological resources necessary for investing themselves in their roles.
- Rest: The organization gives employees a sense that they can take time off when needed.
I can’t say that anyone was surprised; COVID-19 has thrown everything into chaos. Prior to March, the majority of our workforce worked in our headquarters. Now most people are working exclusively from home and communicating only through teleconferences, Zoom calls, or Slack. The lines between work and home are increasingly blurred, causing many to work all hours of the day, not to mention the stressors of living through a global pandemic.
Our employees were honest, and the data was clear. Between the external factors and low scores for capacity and rest, we knew our team was feeling burnout. But for the first time, that burnout was caused by the situations in which they had to work and not by the work itself. We’re seeing this trend across our database.
We’ve historically had an unlimited PTO policy to help our people recharge when they felt depleted, but that concept seemingly disappeared with quarantine and social distancing. Our employees needed rest, and simply encouraging them to “take a break when they need” wasn’t enough. We needed to model the behavior from the top and give the team permission to take the time they needed.
Our solution? Taking off every Friday in May. It was a big choice. It was a bold choice. But based on the data we received from our people, we knew it was the right choice for our business.
Crafting meaningful change
Using the data, we brainstormed different ideas to address the burnout and wanted to strike a balance between giving meaningful time to truly make a difference but also keeping the day-to-day operations and overall productivity. By aligning the team’s schedule we did two things:
- We all knew who was off when. We all worked to wrap things up by EOD Thursday and didn’t have to wait on individuals or other teams to get back in the office to move projects forward.
- People truly respected the time off. We could all hold each other accountable and limit the “PTO guilt” because no one felt like they needed to check email or respond to colleagues.
As a leader, I can safely say that the peace of mind this decision brings, in today’s climate, is worth its weight in gold. Almost every thought piece on business nowadays is about how “uncertain” these times are. That’s true: This is unprecedented. Yet even in the midst of it all, leaders have a place to provide clarity and direction for their people. Leveraging employee feedback and perspective can shine a light on the path and give leaders confidence to make the bold decisions.
Some preliminary employee feedback
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking: “You took Fridays in May off. Great, but it’s the end of the month. How did it go?”
We still don’t know exactly how our actions impacted our overall business. We’ll be measuring again soon with the same questions in order to see if our score went up, and we’ll share those results.
I don’t have that data today, but I do have stories from my people—dispatches from their lives away from the office. They’re more resilient than I could ever have imagined. They’ve taken this time as a gift, and it’s helping them live through this quarantine with more intention and centeredness.
Taking Fridays off has given our people space and separation from work Some have used their Fridays to tackle home projects and others to pursue training opportunities they never felt they had time for. Parents, who are also juggling their newfound roles as teachers, have told me that having an extra day to spend with their kids has done wonders for their child’s temperament. One four-year-old, who looks forward to spending their whole Friday with Mom, has started calling them “Mommy Fridays.” Based on anecdotal feedback, we’ve found that this response has allowed our people to feel more refreshed and refocused when they’re on the clock knowing they have a little extra time for themselves. I’m not saying this will work for every business, but it seems to be working for us.
The message is data
Moving to a 4-day work week isn’t the learning here. Because without feedback from your team, this would be nothing more than a guess. What I hope you learn is that every leader and every company should use data to inform their decision-making. Then you can make bold leadership decisions and stand behind them with confidence.