Gloria Perez logged off her computer last week and told all of her employees to do the same for a special week of “radical self-care.”
As many workplaces enter their eighth month of working from home during the pandemic, employees are coping with the constant grind of remote work on top of the colliding crises of the coronavirus and racial injustice. So, for the first time, Perez added an extra week of paid time off for all employees to collectively recharge.
“In these unprecedented times, it felt like the right thing to do,” said Perez, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. “It really feels like the intensity of the work doesn’t let up.”
Due to travel restrictions or virus fears, many workers delayed taking vacations this year and some companies fear an explosion of year-end paid time off (PTO) requests.
Jamie Millard noticed some of her 10 employees weren’t taking vacation time during the summer. So she shut down her office for a week in June, then again in July and in August — forcing people to take the paid break without the guilt of missing work or feeling obligated to log into e-mail on vacation.
“The fatigue is just extreme,” said Millard, executive director of the Minneapolis-based media arts nonprofit Pollen, which has long given collective time off. “I think it’s very important for a collective rest to happen all together. It feels mentally and physically different to know that no one else is working.”
For the first time, she also is shutting down her office on Election Day and the day after. That’s in addition to summer hours — half-days off on Fridays — and a usual collective week off in December, all of which is on top of each employee’s normal four to six weeks of PTO they can take whenever they want. She said it costs money to do the extra vacations, but it pays off; Pollen is recording its highest revenue year ever and zero turnover in four years, she said.
“We are more than productivity. It’s about having a good human life,” Millard said, adding that she spent her extra time off cooking with her mom and spending more time with her two daughters and husband outdoors.
Working from home in the pandemic feels like an unproductive daily slog, she said, but it doesn’t mean that telecommuting won’t be sought after post-pandemic; it’s just the added stress of forced isolation and juggling work from home while watching over her 5-year-old as she attends kindergarten class online.
“It’s just been relentless,” she said. “The weight feels so incredible right now ... rest just has to be part of that.”
Museums, arts organizations and other nonprofits are in survival mode, issuing layoffs and furloughs to respond to the loss of revenue during the pandemic. Other nonprofits that offer 24/7 services like mental health or food assistance may not be able to make a collective closure. But Millard argues that Fortune 500 corporations or big nonprofits could do collective vacations by department or team.
At the Minnesota Council on Foundations, Susie Brown added an extra week off for all 11 employees the week of July 4th, three months into the pandemic and a month after George Floyd’s death.
“It was specifically because of the taxing nature of 2020,” she said. “It was a moment of refresh and renewal.”
At the Women’s Foundation, which also started working remotely in March, the 17 employees’ extra paid week off is on top of two to five weeks of PTO. Perez said the loss of commutes just means employees are using that time to work longer days in the morning, at night and through lunch breaks, and shifting between back-to-back meetings on Zoom.
Now, as Minnesotans enter the dark days of winter, Perez said the week off was critical after an exhausting year; “it can wear down your spirit and energy.”