The SimpliFlying compulsory leave experiment – the results are in!

The work culture experiment

In April this year, we kick-started the latest work experiment at SimpliFlying – compulsory one week of leave every seven weeks for all staff. Of course, the leaves had to be staggered but the key was the staff had to be completely cut off from work. There was just one simple rule:

“Reply to an email and you wouldn’t be paid. React to a Slack message and you won’t be paid for that week.”

The aim of this experiment was to take a break from heavy thinking, or heavy work, and find “space”. A concept shared by Neil Pasricha and practiced by Stefan Sagmeister (though he takes a year off every seven years). A number of the SimpliTeam members shared their excitement about this new policy from the outset.

We’ve now each taken at least four “week-offs” since April and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. Individual productivity levels shoot up in the weeks following the break for any one of us, creativity improves along with teamwork, and each of us is happier when we get back to work. Though, the proof is in the pudding.

What do the numbers tell us?

Once the team members were back from their week off, each one was rated on five key metrics:

  1. Productivity
  2. Creativity
  3. Happiness

Ironically, my own productivity dipped almost 20% after coming back from my first week off. The reason? I moved cities that week! So, I went from “heavy thinking” to “heavy work”. And that didn’t give me the needed “space”. The feedback from the team was swift and I made amends my next week off.

We had the manager’s of each team member rate themselves before and after the mandatory vacation. The results? Creativity went up 33%, happiness levels rose 25%, and productivity increased 13%. (You won’t be surprised to learn that we also asked employees to self-report and the numbers were even higher… but we thought the manager ratings were the most objective assessment of results.)

In some cases, returning team members were able to produce detailed standard operating procedure documents in a day as opposed to over two days. Collaboration across time zones would be smoother after someone returned from time off, as documents required fewer revisions. The biggest jumps were in Ravi’s productivity (up 60%), Marco’s creativity (up 40%) and Shubhodeep’s happiness (up 20%).

So, what has the SimpliTeam been up to?

Since April this year, Shubhodeep has gone on a year-long sabbatical, held a much acclaimed “poetography” exhibition and is holding his second (check it out if you’re in Delhi). He’s been the official photographer at a cricket match in his week off, a film festival and also interviewed the director of True Detective.

Guen rekindled her childhood passion for oil painting (and she’s getting real good!). She travelled to places as exotic as Bali and Kyoto with her newly-wed husband. And is spending some good time with her family in Melbourne this week, as it’s her week off.

Marco walked to the end of the world, discovered Valencia in a bunch of “staycations“, and will be heading down to Florianopolis in Brazil for a month early next year to learn Portuguese! He’s passionate about languages and is a rockstar in the local language exchanges in Valencia.

So nothing like immersing himself in the culture, to pick up a new language.

Dirk managed to take his family for holidays to Dubai and Croatia. Baiba had her parents visit her from Latvia during her week off. It is important to note both of them joined the team only halfway the summer this year.

Ravi, who had been leading research and special projects at SimpliFlying, has moved on to start his own entrepreneurial journey after conceptualising a new project during his weeks off. He sought feedback from the team on the project and we concluded it would be best if he pursues it full time. Stay tuned for what he has in store.

Personally, I have moved to Toronto and explored the new city like a tourist. I re-designed my office. I even joined a chef school, and cooked up some pretty amazing dishes at home too. The week offs ensured that my book got published. And I just became a second-time dad last week!

Professionally, SimpliFlying has continued to soar. We held a very successful Marketing Innovation Lab in London, that paves the way for three more next year. The team truly came together to pull it off, along with the launch of SOAR. We’ve helped clients as diverse as Germania, SriLankan Airlines, Volaris and Bombardier become remarkable since the summer.

While the experiment has produced some great results, we had to adapt along the way.

What we didn’t get right at the beginning

When we started, the rules were simple – take every seventh week-off. But given we are a small team spread around the world, we couldn’t afford to take weeks off sequentially. So we added a new rule – while two people may take the same week off, no two people can take subsequent weeks off.

That ensured that balls didn’t get dropped, as the whole team would be on the call every alternate week at least.

One of the first mistakes made in the experiment was by me. In my first week off, I moved from Ottawa to Toronto and did a bunch of heavy lifting (literally). So while I was off work, I was still working hard. When I got back, the team didn’t accept my explanations. Since I had gone from “heavy thinking” to “heavy working”. The purpose of the week off wasn’t fulfilled. I had not created “space” that comes when you do no thinking and no work. I mended my ways and did it by the book the next time round.

Another way we adapted was that we introduced some flexibility to the timing of the week off – where it could be taken a week before or after the original dates.

For example, Marco had to travel to Barcelona for a presentation at Vueling and Sri Lanka for our work with the national carrier there. His week off was meant to be just before these trips. But that would have made things very hectic in the run-up, so he decided to take it off once he returned from his travels. That worked well for both the company and Marco.

Finally, I felt that the vacations were happening too frequently and suggested taking them every 12 weeks instead. However, the team wasn’t very pleased with that suggestion. So we finally settled on 8 weeks.

The Conclusion

It gives me immense pride to see all that the team has done, outside of work, since the experiment began. We discovered our hidden talents, travelled often, spent time with our family and loved ones.

This experiment just re-iterates the fact that humans are multi-faceted and to make a person do only one type of job or to ascertain his or her value based on the daily job is just not right. When we are given the freedom to explore our multiple talents, we blossom as individuals. When flowers blossom, their fragrance spreads everywhere. I have seen not only personal growth in each SimpliTeam member, but also development in each of their work. I dare say this experiment is a win-win.

What do you think of our experiment? Do you think this works better than “unlimited leave” that some companies have in place? Would this work in your context?

Meanwhile, if you’re curious about life at SimpliFlying, you will enjoy this video:

Meanwhile, here are some of the individual blog posts from the SimpliTeam on their weeks off (some very interesting stories)

  1. Ravi: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/week-compulsory-leave-simpliflyings-new-workplace-ravimohan-chauhan?trk=prof-post
  2. Marco: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/imagine-walking-beach-end-world-compulsory-leave-marco-serusi?trk=prof-post
  3. Shubhodeep: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-i-learnt-after-shooting-5000-photos-5-days-shubhodeep-pal?trk=prof-post
  4. Guen: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leave-experiment-part-1-li-guen-phua?trk=prof-post

For example, Marco had to travel to Barcelona for a presentation at Vueling and Sri Lanka for our work with the national carrier there. His week off was meant to be just before these trips. But that would have made things very hectic in the run-up, so he decided to take it off once he returned from his travels. That worked well for both the company and Marco.

The Conclusion

It gives me immense pride to see all that the team has done, outside of work, since the experiment began. We discovered our hidden talents, travelled often, spent time with our family and loved ones.

This experiment just re-iterates the fact that humans are multi-faceted and to make a person do only one type of job or to ascertain his or her value based on the daily job is just not right. When we are given the freedom to explore our multiple talents, we blossom as individuals. When flowers blossom, their fragrance spreads everywhere. I have seen not only personal growth in each SimpliTeam member, but also development in each of their work. I dare say this experiment is a win-win.

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco.Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others.Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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