For the overworked modern American employee, the policies and perks offered by some of the most generous companies sound like manna from the corporate gods. Onsite climbing walls. Free housekeeping. Chef-catered meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Yet however nice such benefits may be, they can also end up acting as subtle ways to get employees to work more. It saves time and stress to have a company dry cleaner, free gourmet snacks and made-to-order mochas down the hall or access to ahealth clinic on the corporate campus. Still, there's an implied message: "We'll provide you everything here onsite, so you never really have to leave."
A few companies, however, have policies, perks and even office designs that say the opposite: Get out of here. As the evidencepiles up that people need time off to be more productive, some employers — particularly smaller ones — are finding clever ways to actually suggest employees stop working. Here are a few of the boldest workplace moves:
Paying people to take vacations
The software company Evernote offers employees an extra $1000 stipend if they take a full week away from work. The company, which also has an unlimited vacation policy, added the stipend as a way of signaling to employees that it really wants people to take that time off.
Someone who wants to work late at the Amsterdam offices of Dutch design firm Heldergroen will have to do so without a desk. At 6 p.m. every day, the company's desks are lifted via steel cables to the ceiling and the floor is cleared of other furniture. In the evening, the space is rented for free to the community to be used as a dance floor, reception space or yoga studio. The transition is made using a cable system for theatrical productions that's operated by the turn of a key.
Enforcing rest time
Crowd-sourced consumer products maker Quirky, meanwhile, started shutting things down four weeks a year in early 2013. Because of its quarterly business cycle, which builds toward a stressful final few weeks, founder Ben Kaufman wrote in a blog post that the company would be closed the first week of every new quarter. "This is a full, mandatory shutdown of all internal activities," he wrote. "Lights out. Deep breath. Time for us to explore other creative interests. Relax without worrying what we're missing." The weeks off, Kaufman wrote, would be a supplement to Quirky's existing vacation policy and the company reserved the right to "go back to our old ways" if the policy didn't work. (The company, for example, shut down three weeks this year instead of four.)
Keeping tech in the office
Richard Sheridan, the CEO of a small software design firm called Menlo Innovations, tries to keep his employees' work week at the increasingly rare 40 hours in part by limiting work-related technology outside the office. "You can't take work home with you," Sheridan, who wrote a book about his company's culture last year, explained in an email. The company intentionally does not offer tech tools for remote work, such as employer-provided laptops, virtual private networks (VPNs), or remote access software. The company also forbids employees from checking email on vacation and had to have a sit-down with one worker who kept working 60-hour weeks.
Sheridan says there are ways for people to get email from browsers or mobile devices, and that there are "rare and notable" exceptions to the rule. But he thinks there's a real business advantage to people working more efficiently and predictably. "There are very specific business purposes behind all of this," he writes. "We are in an industry that has come to accept missed deadlines, serious budget overruns, and poor quality as 'normal.' "