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Building a Healthy Startup: Why Taking Time Off Matters

By Emily Smith on Tue, Dec 13, 2016

Here at Cobloom, we’re trying really hard to encourage healthy working habits. We’re great at working smart, and embracing flexible working so that everyone on the team can work the hours that best suit their schedules and productivity levels. But one thing we’re not so great at is taking time off.

Today I’m looking at what we currently do, and how we can improve this, to improve our working habits.

Taking Holiday at Cobloom

Our approach to holiday is very similar to our approach to working hours: as long as your work’s getting done, and you’re pulling your weight for the team, we’re not going to be strict about how many days holiday anyone’s taking.

On paper, this is a great idea: it means we can all take time off as and when we want or need to. However, in practice it means that it’s really easy for people to not take any time off.

And we’re not the only ones who’ve found this: a similar trend has led to Buffer experimenting with minimum vacation recommendations to combat it.

In the UK, the standard holiday entitlement is 20 days (excluding 8 bank holidays). At Cobloom, we've kept pretty close to that: the 2 team members who have taken the most time off this year have taken 22 and 21 days respectively. But at the other end of the spectrum, one team member has taken as few as 7 days off this year.

Why Taking Time Off Matters

I realised the importance of taking time off in my very first job: it was a very negative workplace, and I found myself spreading out my holiday days across the year to give myself as many regular breaks as possible.

Even now, when I’m working somewhere I love, I try and stick to my habit of time off regularly so that I'm mentally able to do my best work. For example, earlier this year I was dealing with a lot of stress at home, supporting someone through some health issues, which was mentally draining for me, and I got to the point where I knew I wasn't able to sustain my usual high standards.

Taking just one day off made a huge difference: I was able to take a step back and recharge.

Taking time off and recharging is critical to doing your best work, so we knew we wanted to help everyone on the team feel great about planning and taking restorative time away.


Tackling Holiday Guilt

We’re a team of 4, so any day that one of us is out of the office represents a 25% reduction in our work capacity for that day. It’s logical that whenever someone takes time off, it has a huge impact on the team.

But managing the workload of whoever’s out of the office isn’t the biggest problem we encounter when taking time off. No – the person most affected is the person that’s taking time off.

It turns out that one of the biggest reasons for not taking time off is guilt: we’re worrying about inconveniencing each other, and take less time off because of it.

For example, I was taking a few days off earlier in the year, and I remember spending a couple of weeks ahead of this worrying about how I was burdening the rest of the team with my work during that time. And a much more recent example: Will was unwell a couple of weeks ago, and his first question in our subsequent 1-on-1 meeting was, “did I affect your workload by being off sick?”

This feeling of guilt creates a cycle where some team members take less time off, to put less pressure on the rest of the team, at the expense of taking the pressure off themselves, and looking after their own mental and physical health.

Holiday Lessons We’ve Learned So Far

1) We’re all very different – the amount of holiday each team member has taken varies massively.

2) It’s OK to take time off through the year – and next year we’ll all definitely be more conscious about taking time off regularly.

3) Time off over Christmas – we’re all taking a break between Christmas and New Year. Including weekends and bank holidays, this will amount to 10 days off, which will be more than enough time for us to recharge and be itching to get back into the office.

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