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We’re Shutting Down the Entire Company for a Full Week—Here’s Why

The pandemic reminded us how important mental health is. So we’re making big moves to support our people—including a company-wide week off.

Sabrina Jensen May 27, 2021
illustration of a person relaxing on the beach

In 2020, as the pandemic surged across the globe, we went home. In-person interactions were cancelled, each to be replaced by a digital counterpart.

By January 2021, the average internet user had accounts on 8.4 different social media platforms and was spending two hours and 25 minutes on social media every day (with seven hours total spent on the internet across all devices)—proving that the lines between the “real” world and its virtual parallel were now more blurred than ever.

But with increased time spent in hyper-digital spheres, we also saw a rise in depression, anxiety, loneliness, and uncertainty.

Our collective mental health is suffering

As we struggled to adapt to life in lockdown, we saw the world rocked by protests as the murder of George Floyd spurred millions to take to the streets in support of Black Lives Matter—the largest movement in U.S. history—catapulted by social media.

We saw the enduring effects of socioeconomic inequality as COVID-19 related deaths disproportionately affected those in low-income neighbourhoods and households. In the U.S., underrepresented groups saw worse outcomes from the pandemic than white Americans—with 48% of Black adults and 46% of Hispanic or Latino adults more likely than white adults to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder.

And in 2021, a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism showed that Vancouver, B.C., where Hootsuite is headquartered, saw more reported anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020 than any other city in North America.

Even though the weight of these forces have fallen upon an already stressed-out and burned-out workforce, people have stopped taking much-needed time for self-care, or vacation time to process—in fact, they’re working more than ever before.

Organizations have seen productive time increase by 5% or more since the onset of the pandemic, according to estimates from Harvard Business Review. And people are working a minimum of two additional hours per day around the globe, says Bloomberg.

Even when we’re not working, we’re thinking about work. Hootsuite found 40.4% of internet users aged 16 to 64 are on social media for work purposes and 19% of people follow companies related to their work on social.

More and more, we’re living in a world where the workday effectively doesn’t end—and as a result, many of us are finding ourselves “languishing.” The term (popularized by The New York Times) represents “the neglected middle child of mental health”… a sort of void between depression and flourishing or, to put it simply, the absence of well-being.

A 2021 Mental Health Index from LifeWorks (formerly Morneau Shepell) called it a “massive decline in all areas of mental health and work productivity”—and this is no exaggeration. Across the board, employees are extending themselves far beyond their previous capacities to endure business changes and increasing demands.

LifeWorks reported that nearly half of Canadians are feeling the need for mental health support in 2021, with over 40% of the global workforce considering leaving their employer this year, according to Microsoft. The consequences of burnout are real—now magnified by anxieties around returning to the office or the promise of a pre-pandemic life.

As a result, organizations are looking outside the box for new, creative ways to retain talent and ensure a healthy workforce. We know because we’re on this journey ourselves.

Organizations have a responsibility to prioritize mental health

Traditionally, the workplace has been a place where people have been asked to check their personal lives at the door, but as organizations consider thoughtful new approaches to where people will work (with hybrid models seeming like the most coveted options these days), we’re also recognizing an increased responsibility towards the health of our people—and that means encouraging them to bring their whole selves to work.

Far beyond traditional benefits and free snacks, employee health starts with organizations recognizing that they are the most critical catalysts to re-building a mentally healthy society. This privilege represents a new opportunity to reshape the future of how we work.

At Hootsuite, we’ve been redefining what a healthy company culture and workforce means to us. We’re focusing on building a diverse, inclusive, and results-oriented workplace—one that encourages people to come as they are.

We’ve also made clear that ‘results-oriented’ doesn’t mean working around the clock or being highly productive every single day. What it does mean is that we’re all working together towards a common goal.

We’ve built a holistic approach to mental health into the fibre of how we work and we’ve implemented a host of new initiatives to help us get there.

Productivity requires ample breaks

Hootsuite founder Ryan Holmes relates work-life to “interval training”—an ethos where bursts of hard work are offset by periods of rest and recovery—and we can’t agree more. He even argued that sometimes what we really need is an extended period away from the job—be that in the form of a vacation or even a longer sabbatical.

No one can run back-to-back marathons without burning out, which is why we’re introducing a company-wide Wellness Week where we can all “unplug” together—forgoing the collective need to check notifications while we’re out or “catch up” upon return.

The inaugural Wellness Week, which will take place between July 5 to 12, is separate from each employee’s vacation allotment. For our people in customer-facing roles or roles where there are critical coverage needs, staggered schedules will ensure appropriate coverage so that Hootsuite’s customers won’t experience any interruptions in service.

We’ll also be providing Owly Quality Time where we log off for half-day Fridays in the summer months—Q1 in the Southern Hemisphere and Q3 in the Northern.

But our dedication to the mental health of our people goes far beyond a single week off.

illustration of a person in a kayak

Work-life integration over work-life ‘balance’

At Hootsuite, we’ve been thinking a lot about work-life integration as the most realistic and healthiest approach to encouraging a productive relationship towards work.

According to UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, work-life integration is “an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define ‘life’: work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health,” whereas work-life balance focuses on a more artificial separation between work and life.

As a distributed workforce, we encourage our people to find harmony between work and life rather than keeping the two entities separate—which feels less and less realistic in 2021. We’ve also realized that a blended approach to work will provide greater diversity in the workplace and allow us to tap into a broader global talent pool.

We believe you need to slow down to speed back up

These built-in breaks for our employees offer our people the opportunity to rest. We believe that slowing down like that from time to time is the only way you’ll have the capacity to speed back up again.

When we take those much-needed moments to rest and recover, we can do more with less. When we take a moment to actually absorb how we’ve gotten to where we are, we create space for innovation and experimentation.

Our partners help us champion a diverse and inclusive culture

We’re also supporting mental health by staying engaged with underrepresented groups in our community, where we’ve implemented a number of foundational programs aimed at building a more diverse and inclusive organization.

We leverage our growing group of partners (we currently work with the Black Professionals in Tech Network and Pride at Work Canada) to help our leaders to attract, acquire, retain, and promote diverse talent. We are continuing to grow this ecosystem of partnerships as we scale as an organization and become increasingly diverse.

Partnerships are incredibly important when it comes to creating an environment where employees feel like they belong, have an opportunity to excel, and can bring their true selves to work.

With support from our partners, we’ve made improvements to how we source and recruit employees. We’ve also standardized our internal promotion processes to mitigate bias, and are making unconscious bias training available to everyone in the company.

This year, we added to our standard benefits package to ensure all of our employees have access to the mental health support they need.

How we updated our benefits to support mental health

Tara Ataya, Hootsuite’s Chief People and Diversity Officer, champions mental health.

“The resilience of our organization is rooted in the psychological safety of our people. When employees are given the tools, resources, and time to look after their mental health and wellness, organizations are more agile, resilient, and successful.”

illustration of the importance of health

These are some of the new benefits that we’ve enacted to support the productive and healthy lives of our people—with an ongoing commitment to prioritizing mental health:

  • We expanded our mental health benefits coverage by six times. We now provide 100% coverage on mental health-related treatments in North America to ensure that our people can visit the practitioners that best align with their needs, without incurring adverse financial impacts.
  • To help offset the immense stress that can be caused by some major life events, we’ve implemented coverage for fertility treatments and gender affirmation surgeries within the new benefits package for all Canadian and U.S. employees—these are flexible benefits, developed to adapt to and support a wide-ranging set of needs.
  • We’ve addressed the needs of our diverse work population by expanding our paid sick leave policy beyond the individual employee so that it also covers time off to care for immediate family members. Paid sick leave at Hootsuite has also doubled for all employees and can be used for mental health and personal days.
  • We offer our employees culturally appropriate trauma counselling services to aid them through difficult times.
  • We believe financial health and mental health go hand in hand, so we’ve set audacious goals around retirement saving, and in 2021, Hootsuite rolled out 401K matching, RRSP matching, and various other regional programs in the countries where we operate.

Early in 2021, after shifting to a distributed workforce and conducting a series of polls to find out how our people wanted to work in the future, we decided that in select regions, we’d convert some of our larger offices (which we’ve always called ‘nests’) into ‘perches’—our version of a ‘hot desk’ model—giving our people complete autonomy and flexibility over where and how they chose to work.

Through these approaches and initiatives, we’ve realized that we can support the mental health of our people by granting them the autonomy they need to re-shape their work environment to choose what works best for them—helping them to uncover the best version of themselves.

We can provide the freedom necessary for our people to bring their entire selves to work, the flexibility to use their benefits in a way that actually benefits them (pun intended), and the time to recover and regenerate, whenever they need it.

Our efforts won’t end as we turn the page on COVID-19. We’re committed to an agile, life-long approach to putting our people first. We understand that sometimes we’ll get it right, and sometimes we may miss the mark—but we’ll keep trying throughout.

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By Sabrina Jensen

Sabrina is the Global Corporate Communications Strategist at Hootsuite, where she drives the company’s public relations and executive communications initiatives.

Read more by Sabrina Jensen

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