Under New Management – Guest Post by David Burkus
Today’s post is written by thought leader and author David Burkus. David’s new book, Under New Management, takes many of the traditional workplace elements and shows new ways to forge past these outmoded models and inspire change and engagement in your company. Below is a guest post from David that stems from this great new book.
(This original post was inspired by concepts from chapter eleven of Under New Management. A counterintuitive TED talk by legendary designer Stefan Sagmeister mirrors what the academic community has known for some time – sabbaticals are a great way to rejuvenate employees and help make businesses healthier and more productive.)
Work Less: Why Stefan Sagmeister Believes Sabbaticals Fuel Creativity
The 21st century business world pushes people to be ‘always on,’ but the smartest business leaders have been taking a page from the academic community and embracing the idea of the sabbatical for reenergizing creativity and even aiding in leadership development. As it turns out, the best way to stay productive all the time is to spend a good portion of it being deliberately unproductive.
In July 2009, the acclaimed artist and designer Stefan Sagmeister took the stage at the annual TEDGlobal conference and launched a rather counterintuitive idea.
At TEDGlobal, an annual gathering of the world’s top thinkers and doers, speakers present ‘ideas worth spreading’ to an audience that can most certainly help their work gain traction. Given the achievements of those assembled, Sagmeister’s talk must have been met initially with surprise. His idea worth spreading was simple: work less. Sagmeister told his audience that he completely closes down his design studio every seven years and gives himself and his designers an entire year for personal travel and experimentation. He and his entire staff are free to pursue whatever interests them as long as it does not involve business as usual. “In that year, we are not available for any of our clients,” he said. “We are totally closed.”
Sagmeister clearly knew his audience and knew they would find his message counterintuitive. Without being asked, he addressed what was certainly the obvious and most common question among his listeners: how could he afford to take so much time away? In a highly competitive world, where he and his company were only as good as their last project, wasn’t it risky to leave behind his current projects, suspend his business relationships, and step away from his work entirely?
Sagmeister believes that quite the opposite is true — that stepping away from a successful career is, in fact, what has allowed him to have such a successful career. “That is clearly enjoyable for myself,” he told the audience, “but probably more important … the work that comes out of this year flows back into the company and into society at large.” Sagmeister found that, after his first sabbatical, all of his new projects were of much higher quality and directly related to his time off. “Basically, everything we’ve done in the seven years following the first sabbatical came out of [the] thinking of that one single year.” Since these ideas turned into higher-quality projects, his studio was able to charge even higher prices once the designers reassembled in New York after their year on leave. Sagmeister’s experience was that the combination of rest and experimentation that came from the sabbaticals taken by him and his team re-fired their creativity, which in turn, refuelled their company’s financial success.
Sabbatical programs are rare inside of corporate America, but their number is increasing. In a 2009 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, fewer than 5 percent of companies in the United States offered paid sabbaticals. By 2014 that number had climbed to 15 percent (3 percent offering paid leave and another 12 percent offering unpaid sabbaticals). But even though they might seem like a new idea to the companies that adopt them, sabbaticals aren’t exactly a new concept. Indeed the very word ‘sabbatical’ is derived from the Hebrew word ‘Sabbath,’ an ancient concept of allowing for a time of rest at fixed intervals.
Sagmeister is not alone in his observations. Companies such as McDonald’s and Intel have been using some variation on the sabbatical model since the late 70’s / early 80’s. Since that time many technology companies have embraced the idea, allowing their employees to take paid leave to reignite their creativity and improve collaboration. Many of these companies have discovered that sabbaticals provide an excellent opportunity for those who stay to be cross-trained to cover for the employee on leave, increasing the effectiveness of the entire staff.
Sabbaticals represent small investments that yield big returns. By giving employees structured time to rest and rejuvenate, new potential for creativity and high performance is unlocked. Regardless of the specific structure of the sabbatical, the positive returns experienced by companies that make use of it far outweigh the costs, and the empirical research backs up their experiences. Time away from work makes work better.
David Burkus is the author of the forthcoming Under New Management. He is host of the Radio Free Leader podcast and associate professor of management at Oral Roberts University. Please visit his website at www.davidburkus.com.
David’s new book Under New Management is trending as a great new take on business and organizational development. Get a copy today and take your organization to another level!