Pat Kinsel, chief executive of Notarize, went off the grid last June for a trip to the Caribbean with his family. He discovered the thrills of untethering from his Google calendar: He played chess with his son, kicked a soccer ball on the beach, let his kids bury him in sand. Upon his return, one of his subordinates wanted to know: Can we also unplug like you did?
A few weeks later, Mr. Kinsel held a video meeting for his 440 employees to launch Operation Chillax, the company’s one-week mandatory vacation. With the whole firm shut down, except for a few customer service people, nobody worried about checking their emails. Following their boss’s orders, they chillaxed: Ziplining, golfing, fly-fishing, home improvement. One employee got a new tattoo (of Paddington Bear).
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To Mr. Kinsel, the past 18 months called for an extreme approach to vacation. “The pandemic normalized the concept that work is interrupted by life, but the downside is that sometimes people’s work extends into personal time,” he said in an interview last week, while waiting outside the Dallas airport for an Instacart delivery of a baby monitor for his family’s vacation to Mexico. “You have to set boundaries.”
America has long been a fixture in the global vacation hall of shame, mandating no paid vacation time, unlike the European Union, which requires its member states to give workers at least 20 paid days off.
Maybe we can blame the Puritans. Those settling in America in the 17th century thought idleness was sinful, and a six-day workweek sensible. But even by the mid-1800s, the country’s businessmen had made a notable discovery: sometimes they needed to rest in order to keep working.
Some U.S. employers have gone the route of offering unlimited vacation days; the share of companies with that policy rose by 178 percent between 2015 and 2019, according to data from Indeed. Studies have shown, though, that such a policy often leads to workers taking even less time off, because there’s no clear benchmark of what’s appropriate to do.
But mandated relaxation time is now becoming an increasingly popular company perk. GitLab introduced Family and Friends Day early in the pandemic, a once-monthly day off for nearly all employees. Headspace Health, the parent company of the meditation and mindfulness app, is closing its operations next week (“we’re human beings, not human doings,” the director of meditation explained). Real, a mental health care start-up, instituted quarterly mental health breaks, when all employees get a full week off.