Why we take August off as a company.
Two weeks ago, we decided to give our team the whole of August off. At full pay, with no impact on the rest of their holiday allocation. We're closing the office and taking a rest. Why? Because we need it.
The last two and a half years have been exhausting. Everyone I know is on the edge of burnout. I hear about the huge to-do lists people have and the lack of energy they feel. Bubbling under every conversation I have with friends, family and team members is a shared understanding of the effort it takes to show up every day.
This collective lack of energy might have resulted from a physical illness during the pandemic. It might be from processing other things now happening worldwide or simply because it takes a massive amount of energy to readjust to life outside the Covid-19 bubble.
How did we ever manage a commute, a social life, a family and the million other things life threw at us pre-pandemic?
We need a break.
We need it to process what has happened over the last few years. To reflect, rest and recharge. To be ready for whatever is around the next corner. Most people take two weeks' holiday if they can, but under the circumstances, this doesn’t feel long enough. Especially when you know you're coming back to a full inbox. But a whole month, when the whole of the team are also off and clients know you're all having a break? It feels like it might just work.
I'm not claiming full credit for this decision. One of my senior team, Laura Saxton, and I have long discussed the need for a break. Then a couple of weeks ago, Laura forwarded me this email from the brilliant researcher, author, and speaker Brené Brown. In it Brené outlines her plans for a 14-week sabbatical and her commitment to giving each staff member an additional 4 paid weeks off over the summer. Immeditately on reading it we both thought, why can't we do the same?
Well, there are a lot of sensible reasons not to. We already have a generous holiday allowance, and we close between Christmas and New Year. We already treat our team well and would give anyone time off if they felt like they were burning out. We already work a four-day week (on full pay), which we implemented during the pandemic because we thought it was better for mental health. We found we were no less productive.
But with everyone so exhausted, why wait for burnout before taking a break?
As soon as the idea popped into our inbox, we knew we had to implement it. Our company works to support communities, businesses, educational institutions, and others to develop creative cultures. Our business is to help others create the space for possibility, so to continue to do that well, we had to live our values and create space for our team to do just that. It might seem like a big decision, but it feels easy and obvious. It's the only month when our business would be quiet enough to manage it. The positive impact on the team easily outweighed any minor downsides.
Why wait for burnout before taking a break?
With the decision made, we've spent the time planning, communicating with clients and focusing on making sure we're making the most of June and July. Then when August arrives, we can all relax and not worry about anything we've missed while off. We're going to share what we're hoping to get out of the month with each other and report back so that we can learn from our experiment and hopefully repeat it. Although to be clear, we're not expecting everyone to write a novel, learn a new language or go on a voyage of discovery. Spending the whole month in bed or eating crisps on a sun lounger is encouraged.
As business leaders, we can easily fall into doing things the way they 'should be done', which usually tends to be the way we've done something before. But during the pandemic, everything got flipped upside down, and we had to adapt quickly. And we did. The last thing we should now do is go back to the status quo. We have to keep trying to reimagine things. To listen to what people need and respond creatively.
Of course, not everyone will be able to do what we're doing. We're a company of eight, not 800. We run workshops, courses, and programmes to support people to use creativity to improve their workplaces, community spaces and mindsets. We don't do heart surgery, keep the local shop open, or clean the streets. We know we're fortunate to be able to do what we're doing. But because we can, we are. And I am proud of us for doing that when many won't.
As we enter into this post-pandemic phase (whatever that might mean), it would be easy to try and forget all the hardships, pain and challenge of the last two and a half years. The chance to pause, take stock, and recover feels vital. While taking August off isn't for everyone, finding a way for everyone to pause in their life might help us learn where to go from here and not just try to do business as usual.
Your pause might be a week in Ibiza, a stroll by the sea or binging Bridgerton in your pyjamas. Or you might join in one of our creative Weekly Challenges. Whatever you do to create space, I hope you can rest and take stock.
I'll be putting up pictures, sending a year's worth of birthday cards I'd forgotten to send, calling my friends, maybe reflecting, but mainly sleeping. I'm hoping to come back on the 1st of September, knowing that for the first time in two and a half years, when someone asks, "How are you?" we can all honestly answer, "Good, thanks" and know that we mean it.
by Jo Hunter, Founder of 64 Million Artists
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