Welcome back to another issue of Remotely Interesting! This week, we have something different. I'm kicking off a new series this year on uncommon but innovative benefits.
In case you missed it, we did a series of Work Style interviews last year, profiling people with untraditional workdays. This latest series will be similar in that it will be occasional features over the next year with the goal of helping you see what unique benefits are out there and spark new ideas.
This first benefit feature is on paid sabbaticals. Personally, I took an unpaid sabbatical in 2021 that had a massive impact on my career. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut when you're doing the same thing day in and day out for years. Sabbaticals help you to wake up from this zombie mode, reconnect with your why, and see things differently. Some companies, like Buffer (they're hiring!), have noticed the positive impact this benefit can have, not just personally but also for the company.
Today we're featuring Hailley Griffis, the Head of Communications and Content at Buffer, who will share her experience of taking a 7-week sabbatical last year. She'll break down everything from how she prepared for it, what she originally planned to do vs. what she actually did, and what it was like coming back.
I think this profile will be interesting to those considering this benefit and also to those who were recently laid off and are considering a break before jumping back into work. If you received a severance or have the savings, it just might be a good time to create your own sabbatical.
Let's dive in!
In 2019, burnout was a big topic of conversation at Buffer. We're a relatively small company compared to others in our space (~80 people), and many team members stay for a long time. At the time, Buffer was just eight years old, and already there were a number of people who had been on the team for six or seven years.
So we introduced a sabbatical policy as a way to give teammates intentional time to pause. Buffer's sabbatical policy allows anyone who has been at the company for more than five years to take six weeks off. For any additional years at the company, you get an extra week, with a maximum of 12 weeks off. I had been at the company for six years, so I took seven weeks off.
Seven weeks off of work was a gift I wanted to use thoughtfully. I would not pass up this opportunity for reflection and growth. Ultimately, this sabbatical gave me the space to slow down and rest, question old habits, and reprioritize how I design my life.
My whole plan was to rest. My goal was to feel refreshed after seven weeks away.
Leading up to the sabbatical, I was very reflective. I started feeling like a kid about to have a summer break (my leave was during July and August, which helped).
Initially, back in 2019, when Buffer first shared a sabbatical policy and I knew I'd stick around to reach the 5-year mark, I had thought I would spend the time traveling and training in martial arts. I've done Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for years and have always wanted to train in Brazil.
But three years later, my life was very different. I was now a mother with a one-year-old who had just started daycare. In addition, my husband and I had just moved to Tennessee from Virginia into a new home and neighborhood. We still had boxes everywhere and were adjusting to this massive change in our lifestyle.
So I was in a very different place for this sabbatical. However, I still decided to take a leave even though it would look nothing like I originally planned because I was tired (like I think we all are). It had been an exhausting couple of years of being in a pandemic, having a baby, experiencing sleep loss, and being unable to see my family in Canada due to travel restrictions and health concerns.
For this sabbatical, I decided it was time to rest. I was inspired by Courtney Seiter, Buffer's former VP of People, who took a sabbatical a few years ago. When she was about to leave, I asked her what she had planned, and she happily said, "Nothing". I took that energy into my sabbatical. I didn't want too many plans. The whole purpose of my leave was to rest and return to work seven weeks later refreshed and energized.
I am highly aware that working remotely means my devices are my office. So, before taking time off, I took serious care to ensure I was fully disconnected and didn't feel like I needed to check in.
Here's how I prepared before going offline:
→ I filled out our internal sabbatical document at Buffer.
This document, shared with anyone I immediately work with, outlines the exact dates you'll be off, ways to contact you, and then your areas of ownership and who temporarily owns those. This document was a hub for anything someone might need in my absence.
→ I set up a ton of documentation about my areas of ownership.
Before leaving, I also spent a lot of time outlining how everything was done (e.g. our weekly social media newsletter) and then training others to take on that role.
→ I set my team up while I was out.
I made sure my team had a lot of support while I was out (more on that in the post I wrote for Buffer).
→ I turned on my out-of-office for my email, then set my emails to auto-delete.
On my last day of work, before heading offline, I logged out of Slack everywhere (phone and laptop), deleted Threads from my phone (which we use for asynchronous communication), and then that was that. I was disconnected.
I didn't feel the need to check in on work because I had full confidence that everyone had everything they needed from me. But even if I had wanted to peek in on Slack or Threads by deleting the app or logging out, I removed the ease with which I would have been able to do that, and it would have at least caused some friction so I could pause before checking.
During the sabbatical, I had to stop myself from setting lofty goals (a favorite pastime of mine is goal setting) and focus on relaxing and resting, which is not my natural state.
I had to consciously stop myself from wanting to do too much. I wanted to start projects and do things that would take up energy. But instead, I did morning pages, slept, started stretching, and started training. I did not allow myself to sit still at a laptop all day because that's what I normally do.
Of course, during my first week on sabbatical, my one-year-old was home from daycare with an ear infection. But that happens sometimes. I took it as a lesson to try and relax with my daughter at home with me.
In the second week, I got a massage and started rereading my favorite fantasy series (The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson) to kickstart the relaxation portion. Also, I took daytime baths, did meal prepping, and got back into cooking and baking. We had just moved and had fallen into the habit of ordering takeout or buying frozen food while our dishes were packed away, but that was no longer an excuse, and I just needed to jumpstart the habit again.
Right before the leave, I started reading two books that also set the tone for my time away:
- Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way (a 12-week course on creativity)
- Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying
The exercises in The Artist's Way were wonderful prompts for reflection. They helped me realize how much I want to get back to writing (here I am!) and learn more about what I like and am struggling with right now.
I had wanted to do Marie Kondo's system for a long time but never felt I had the proper time to get it done (in the book, she says to do it quickly can take six months). After finishing her book right before starting my sabbatical, I decided now was the time and spent many hours doing the Marie Kondo method for my entire home. I found items I didn't know I had that are important to me and are now prominently displayed.
For example, I found in a box that I had been carting around for years a piece of art my grandmother was going to throw out that I got out of the trash and kept, and a photo of her in her wedding dress that I didn't know I had. They both sit over my desk now, on clear display for me to enjoy every day in my office.
The process was incredibly energizing and a big part of the reason I feel I came back refreshed. Reframing everything to "does this spark joy?" will make you question many things in life. It taught me a new mindset which helped me start living in a more wonderful and designed environment. The most unexpected highlight was how incredible it felt to get rid of things and walk around my space filled with joy. I still get that feeling.
I went into my sabbatical focused on rest and relaxation, intending to return refreshed and energized. I think I did just the right amount of preparing to go on sabbatical by setting a goal and an intention. Imagining how I wanted to spend my time and then holding myself back from trying to do too much during this time was a helpful challenge.
My sabbatical ended up feeling like a refreshing experience because I now have an organized home, am caught up on sleep, and have a clearer purpose for how I want to spend my time and live my life. In addition, I got back to many routines that I know work for me because they help me be my best self and live life to the fullest. I talk about it more on my podcast, MakeWorkWork, episode 40.
I did not miss work — I had a lot of other things going on! I wondered about work a few times and saw social media posts going out, so I knew things were okay. But I didn't miss work, and I think it was because I had a clear goal and purpose. I knew I'd be back to start doing work when I was refreshed and energized again.
Coming back to work, I was so nervous. It had been seven weeks. What do I even do here? What if I don't remember my job?
I am highly aware of my personality, and I knew I would try and take too much on at once, which I did. My husband, knowing me, helpfully reminded me to take lunch the first day I was back.
I jumped in, messaged my team, and immediately felt so happy to work with them again. People had sent nice messages, and so much work had happened while I was out. Also, the Buffer team had just completed our first Build Week. My team had done amazing, and I was so proud.
It took me a while to feel caught up and like I was operating at full speed again (maybe two to three weeks), but returning to so much energy reminded me how much I enjoy working at Buffer and how the people I work with are really the best.
I learned so much about myself by taking the time to rest and reset so much of my life. I'm truly grateful for the time. I also realized that seven weeks flew by, though it sounds like a long time.
The only thing I would have done differently with my sabbatical would be to have taken some time alone away from my house — I spent so much time at home. I think some space in a cabin somewhere for a weekend would have been the perfect way to end the sabbatical.
If it were up to me, every company would offer a sabbatical. That time and space was so refreshing for me at a time in my life when there was more stress than usual. It was a helpful reset to keep me energized not just at work but in life in general, and I know I'm bringing a better version of myself to everything I do after taking the time to pause.
Sabbaticals are good for both the individual and the company.
Quote of the Week
In Other News
Want a more inclusive workplace? Embrace an async-first approach
"The leaders defending the office-based, ASAP status quo are, by definition, people for whom the status quo has worked well."
The Mystery of the Disappearing Vacation Day
"[The vacation] rate has fallen steadily, from 3.3 percent of the workforce in a given week in 1980 to 1.7 percent today. Yikes."
The Right Not to Be Fun at Work
"Work fun is fine, but it is a poor substitute for the attributes that make a workplace truly attractive: job stability, proper benefits, equal pay, prospects for advancement, flexibility, a respectful and well-resourced environment. Nobody wants a field trip at the expense of a generous vacation allowance—and, as I’ve written, women disproportionately bear the costs of having to attend social events outside of working hours. Plenty of people these days don’t even want to come into the office to work, much less to play."
In Case You Missed It
The Remote Work Differences No One Talks About
In case you missed the last newsletter issue, the differences between remote and office work go beyond just location and lack of commute. Companies that understand these differences transform everything from their hiring practices to how they manage teams. Individuals who understand this burn out less and know how to advance their careers remotely. Here's what you need to know.
February 3rd 2023
What did you think of this issue? What do you hope you'll see in the next one? Feel free to reply to this message or DM me on Twitter @mar15sa.
I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. Hope you have a lovely day!
Founder, Remote Work Prep
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