For many people, the hardest part of one’s job is taking time away from it. That’s how I felt when my employer, Outcome Health, introduced its new employee “Recharge” benefit. After five years of service to Outcome Health, all employees get four weeks of paid vacation to relax and reset. While it sounds like another nutty tech industry perk/retention tool (and sure, it’s a bit of both), the main intention was to support employees’ mental health.
When the Recharge was first announced it sounded great, hell it sounded amazing — especially since I was already eligible! The only other person I knew that had gone on a sabbatical was a college professor. Now I was being given a month off (with pay) to do whatever I wanted.
As excited as I was, I definitely had some reservations about taking four consecutive weeks off. When I started at Outcome we were a small start-up, there were twelve of us working long hours and owning multiple projects and tasks with no back-ups set in place. I took a week long vacation in my second year and returned to an inbox of over 1000 urgent emails and countless fires to put out. While there’s comfort in knowing your role is important, that didn’t outweigh the stress I experienced upon return.
What would it be like returning after four weeks away? I shared my anxiety with my manager and he explained that this was exactly why I should take the Recharge. Relying solely on one individual for multiple tasks or duties is not healthy for a company or for the individual. A large majority of HR professionals think that taking time off is either extremely or very important for a variety of factors related to talent management. Therefore, it came as no surprise that he wanted me to take time away to focus on myself, so that I could come back refreshed and ready to succeed even more in my role.
Leading up to my sabbatical I put in place a coverage plan which forced me to designate back-ups (and back-ups to the back-ups) and train those individuals so that everything I was currently working on didn’t grind to a halt for an entire month. As a result, I came back to an office that missed me (…right?…you guys did miss me…right?) but there were no fires to put out or overflowing inbox. Going on a four week break refreshed me but the work I did prior to leaving ensured that my stress level stayed low upon my return.
As for my trip, it was the greatest. I spent three weeks exploring Europe (Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona) experiencing different cultures, eating amazing food, and getting completely lost (especially in Amsterdam). I made friends everywhere I went, many of which were also tourists. We often compared trips and shared advice. Most were on shorter trips, recent college grads or were on unpaid leave. Whenever I told someone I was on a paid, employer-encouraged sabbatical they immediately asked where I worked and if we had an office in their city. The last 12 months at Outcome have been the toughest I’ve ever experienced. This reaction from strangers reminded me how rare this kind of benefit is, especially for a US company. Outcome Health is a great company to work for with competitive benefits and perks (…with well run offices ;). Apparently I had to travel to another continent to be reminded of this but I’m glad I did.
The last week of my Recharge was spent with my family in Northern California and it was my favorite time. Here I could finally relax and soak up some nature, which was exactly what I needed after a whirlwind of an experience in Europe. It’s important to occasionally experience real silence, take in nature, and actually see stars.
While I originally had my doubts about a four week Recharge, I am officially its number one fan. The time we spend in the office every day is extremely important, but so is the time spent away from the office. I now feel recharged and ready to tackle the rest of this year and beyond. Taking time for yourself is a big part of self-care and mental health, and I’m proud to work for a company that values this too.