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Chip Griffin is the founder and the Small Agency Growth Alliance where he helps PR & marketing agencies grow and thrive. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur. He shares the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

Recent Episodes

Should you force employees to take time off?

Many agency employees feel overworked, yet it can be difficult to convince them to take a vacation from time to time.

As the agency owner, how do you encourage a team member to take a healthy break to recharge their batteries? If they don’t do it on their own, should you force them to take time off?

In this episode, Chip and Gini explore this tricky question, and Gini shares her own experience in this area where things went a bit awry.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin  

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin, 

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich, 

Chip Griffin  

and Gini, I think I’m going to do this show solo next week, you’re going to have to take some time off. 

Gini Dietrich  

Oh, okay. Thanks. 

Chip Griffin  

You’re welcome. We’ll talk more about that right after this. Sadly, I’m not actually giving you that time off. That was…

Gini Dietrich  

Dang it! Well my birthday is coming up. Can I have that day off?

Chip Griffin  

Sure. I mean, whenever you want a day off, you just send me an email and say, Hey, we need to record a different day. So I don’t I don’t know why that would suddenly change.

Gini Dietrich  

Try and get my birthday off. That’s all I’m trying to do.

Chip Griffin  

Feel free to take your birthday. In fact, I don’t even know if I have it on my calendar. I’ll probably have to check that. But I assume that in the Spin Sucks community, there’ll be plenty of people who will chime in and alert me if I’m not paying attention.

Gini Dietrich  

I’m sure. It’s we’re also supposed to record that day. So you’ll know.

Chip Griffin  

Oh, good. Fantastic. I’ll be keeping my eye out for that. Yes. I will not be singing Happy Birthday, though. Thanks. Oh. Nobody wants to hear me do it. But okay. So what we are going to talk about, though, is time off, and particularly the last couple of years, there are a lot of employees and a lot of agencies who haven’t taken much time off in part because what are they going to do with that time off? There’s only so much you can do on a staycation. But the larger point remains, which is you give your employees a certain number of days to take off or you give them unlimited PTO and in the unlimited cases, in fact, we’ve talked about unlimited before. And this is one of the challenges is that oftentimes people take less time off. Yep. When they know it’s unlimited. Yep. But so how do you make sure that your team is recharging their batteries sufficiently? Do you force them to take time off? Do you add incentives of some kind? Yeah, how do you manage this in order to make sure that your team actually is getting the rest that they need?

Gini Dietrich  

So this conversation actually came up in the Spin Sucks community. And the reason it came up is because there’s an agency that’s about 30 employees who’s thinking about doing month long sabbaticals for anybody who’s who’s there five years, or longer, which I think is a great idea. You know, she asked if anybody had any experience, and I said that we do it. And we’ve had probably over the years, seven, maybe eight people who have been with us five years or longer and do it and we do it on their anniversary every year. Well, you know, you can take it, you don’t have to take it on your anniversary. But after five years, you can start taking a month off for a sabbatical. There are some things that we require that involves professional development and all that too. But we do we do allow that. And and I said in that comment that for the most part, it’s worked out there have been two times where I’ve had to force it and say, Listen, take the time, like, you’ve talked about wanting to do XYZ for your career, and you haven’t done it yet. This is the perfect opportunity. Take the month off. And in one case, the person was very grateful. And we worked that so that clients were taken care of and our team was taken care of. And in the other case, the person quit.

Chip Griffin  

An interesting reaction to being asked to work less.

Gini Dietrich  

Yes. Very interesting. She was not happy that I was forcing her to take time off to take a sabbatical. Who doesn’t want to do that? I want to do that. Right?

Chip Griffin  

I mean, the reality is that there was probably more at play than that, you know, generally speaking, anytime, a client fires you or an employee quits, it’s not a single thing. It may be that they’re that one thing is is what that individual uses as the hook to say, I’m leaving because of this, but usually it’s an accumulation of things. It’s like plane crashes, right? A plane crashes, not because typically one thing happens. It’s because a whole series of things have gone wrong. 

Gini Dietrich  

That’s dark. 

Chip Griffin  

All right. Well, I didn’t mean to be dark. I mean, but it’s the it’s the truth. Right. I mean, go grab an NTSB report on any plane crash, and you’ll see it’s like an accumulation of things. It’s not just an easy Oh, that switch was turned off. That’s what did it right. That’s not the case. It’s usually that switch was turned off, and then the pilot reacted this way. And then the inspection wasn’t done correctly. And all those things come together. And it’s the same anytime a relationship deteriorates, it’s usually there may be sort of that overt precipitating event that someone uses as their explanation. But there’s other things at play. But But fundamentally, to me that part of the question is do you force someone to take time off whether it’s for a sabbatical or just you know, end of the year, that kind of stuff and I’m I’ll be honest, I’m more of the mindset that you encourage you nudge but you don’t force because you don’t necessarily know all the reasons why someone doesn’t want to take time off, you should certainly try to understand it. Because if it’s something on the work side, like they feel like, they’d be in a worse position, if they left, I know, I’ve been in those jobs where I felt like if I took a week off, I was just gonna be so buried when I came back that it wasn’t even worth doing it. Because I was I was getting one week of rest followed by three weeks of misery getting caught up.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I have been in the same situation. And I think there’s something to be said, for that, you know, we have unlimited paid time off. And, and like you said, at the beginning, we’ve noticed that people take less time off. And so we do encourage, you know, we, we close the last two weeks of the year for everybody, and just say we’re closed, you know, hardly anybody works anyway. And so that, that sort of forces some time off, for sure. But you know, I will, I will encourage things like we do, we do summer Fridays, where we’re closed on Friday, so that helps, too. But I will encourage people, when I feel like they’re getting to the point where they’re going to be be burned out, or that they’re not, they haven’t taken any time off, other than, you know, the company, closing time off, then I will have during a one to one, I will say, Hey, listen, let’s let’s think about getting you some time off. So. But yeah, I mean, there are certainly situations and certainly clients that we work with, that make it a lot more stressful if you take the time off. So we try to fill in where we can and you know, make it flow a little bit better. And sometimes it’s painful for the team too, when somebody takes time off. But I think I really believe in the rest and recharge mantra, you know, I’m a huge cyclist, and I would never ride seven days a week, because I know that my body needs rest. And I always perform better because I do that. So I’m a big believer in taking time off to rest and recharge, and you become more creative. And you you start thinking about things and you’re not, you don’t have all the stuff going on around you and you’re able to be more creative and and think more clearly. So I always encourage it, especially for the stubborn ones by saying, hey, you know, we’ve been thinking about this business challenge. And I think if you took some time off, it might clear it up in your head. And after they do that they’re like, Yeah, you’re right. I just needed to have some time to think. So it makes a little bit easier. But yeah, I, I did force try to force the sabbatical. And that did not work very well.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah. Well, I think I think one of the things that’s important to do, too, is to think about, you know, what is what is your structure? What is your process that makes it easy or convenient for employees to take time off. So, and that addresses some of the things that that you’ve mentioned, as far as making sure that their work is covered in a fashion that they’re not just buried after the fact that they can feel good that their clients are continuing to be serviced, even when they are off. And so you really need to, and it’s tough when you’re a small team, I get it. But you need to sit there and think about, you know, what can you do to make this easier for your team so that they don’t dread the idea of going away from the office?

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, we have a client if you their head of HR went to Mexico in November, and she was checking in every day. And I was like, What are you doing? And she goes, it’s just easier. It’s like, that’s a problem. If you can’t take a week off without checking Slack and email and all of that, and you know, responding to stuff, that’s a problem. That’s a cultural problem. And I said, She’s the head of HR, we’ve been working on it together. Um, but I do think in our own agencies, the same kind of thing. It’s, it’s a problem. If people can’t take a week off. Without it, you know, to your point, a week of relaxing to come back to three weeks of misery. That’s terrible.

Chip Griffin  

Right? I mean, I’m not necessarily opposed to the daily check in as long as it’s a limited check in right. But the problem becomes when it sucks you in? Yeah, what’s that?

Gini Dietrich  

She was definitely sucked in.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, the second part is bad. But you know, when I had larger teams, I always like to check in once a day when I was on vacation, because mostly, what it allowed me to do was just make sure that if something was headed off the rails, I could, I could offer that little sprinkling of fairy dust that might keep it from going off the rails. So I didn’t have that bigger problem after the fact. So but the trick is, if you’re going to do that, whether you’re the agency owner, or you’ve got a team member who’s doing that is really make sure that it’s limited to just you know, a quick check in to make sure that nothing’s on fire. And, and sometimes that actually can be what an employee needs in order to decide to take the time off, if that’s okay for you to do that quick check in, if that’s gonna, you know, put your mind at ease that, you know, the things aren’t burning down in your absence, go for it, right. That’s true. I would rather you get 98% of your vacation than 0%.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, that’s actually a great point to you know, meet them in the middle and figure out what works for them so that they can take time off. That’s totally fair.

Chip Griffin  

We’re all different, right? I mean, some of us, you know, want to be completely unplugged. Some of us like me, I have a hard time just taking time off because you know, what do I do for fun. I do work, right. So I just do different work. Right? You build websites? Yes. That? Yes, I do. I admit that I spend way too much time building websites, because I just enjoy doing it. And so if I take time off, like I did between Christmas and New Year’s last year, I go off and build website stuff, because it’s fun, it’s relaxing for me most of the time, until I create all sorts of bugs that I then have to fix.

Gini Dietrich  

Right and then you’re like, oh, this doesn’t work. Why doesn’t this work?

Chip Griffin  

Right. But it was a great idea. In the moment, I had fun in the moment, it’s just the after effects, but you know, it, this is also one of those places where and I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but the one on ones that you have with your team members, you will start to get to understand what makes them tick and what they need, when they need to take time off how they best take time off, what processes need to be in place. So really take advantage of those one on ones to look at this, particularly now because so many people have put off vacations or you know, avoided taking time off because they’re like, I don’t want to waste my time off to go, you know, work in my garage, because I’m not a car guy. Right? Or, you know, I mean…

Gini Dietrich  

You know, that’s a really good point. Because one of the things that I’ve been saying to my team for the last few years is maybe you don’t take some time off, but maybe you have a change of scenery. So get in the car and drive to Nashville and stay in an Airbnb or drive out to the mountains or you know, whatever it happens to be, and do have a change of scenery. So sometimes actually, I kind of love it when you get on Zoom with them. And you’re like, where are you? And they’re like, Well, I’m in San Diego.

Chip Griffin  

Right? That’s awesome. And so what you may need to do is in those cases, you may need to say, okay, look, you don’t want to take time off, I get it, I’d love for you to have a change of scenery, at least, you know, and so maybe you then kick in 500 or 1000 bucks or something towards an Airbnb or, you know, an RV rental or whatever it is because people do have a lot more flexibility about where they’re working these days if they’re an agency employee, and so, you know, maybe giving them that incentive for a change of scenery, can help. And so to me, I would rather do that than straight up forcing them to take the time off. And again, if if that’s what’s going to make them happy just being in a different place sitting at the beach in the mountains or the lake, go for it.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, absolutely. Because we can literally work anywhere, yeah, yeah, totally. Yeah. And people like to go west, because then it’s only, you know, three o’clock when the East Coast stops working, and they’ve got all afternoon, they love it.

Chip Griffin  

Right. And, and I think this is also where it’s important to always be prepared, right. So we know I talked about processes, one of the things that I’ve always done is made sure that my employees have their equivalent of, and you’re gonna hate this too, because it’s, you know, it’s also grim, but they hit by a bus document. And so I think we’ve talked about this on the show before…

Gini Dietrich  

Win the lottery, we like to say win the lottery.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, I like hit by the bus. In fact, I used to have an envelope in my desk that said, Hit by a bus. And it had all sorts of important information for the business in there. Now, it’s all electronic. But you know, 20, some years ago is in an envelope in my desk, that someone knew was there, and they could go get all the passwords they needed, and all the you know, the super secret information they needed to keep the business carrying on. And so you need to make sure that your team members have this information, because while we’re in the process of talking about someone taking planned time off, sometimes people need to take unplanned time off. Sure. Yeah. And so in those cases, you want to make sure that that you’re covered there, because if you’re if you’re covered for the voluntary time off, you’re probably covered for the involuntary time off too. And vice versa. Right. So it’s, this is a mutual beneficial process. And the more that you put these kinds of things in place, the smoother it is when things come up. And the easier it is for the employee to say, you know, I can take time off, it’s not going to be the end of the world. And by the way, you need to do this for your own role, too, because we can talk about encouraging employees to take time off and recharge their batteries, the owners need to find some way to do that, as well. And owners are the worst at it.

Gini Dietrich  

Oh, for sure. 100%. Yeah. I mean, we have another client that that they do one day a week of no meetings, and I was in their leadership meeting a couple of weeks ago. And one of the the VPS was like, Well, I can’t have a no meeting day people keep putting things on my calendar. And he’s like, Yeah, you’re… the CEO was like, Yeah, you’re in leadership. You don’t get time off. Okay. Sure. Great. Actually, I had the stamina when I was in my 20s I don’t have the stamina anymore.

Chip Griffin  

Right. Well, and I know there’s just some research out on on no-meeting days and how, you know, a limited number of them can improve productivity. The problem is there are some roles where a no-meeting day doesn’t make sense, right? I mean, like I, to me, a no-meeting day for a CEO, for example, makes no sense because CEOs generally are not doing the kind of deep work that they can spend eight hours just not meeting with people. Yeah, right. I mean, what? Yeah, what it that’s they generally speaking – and I’m not talking about in a five person team but you know, in a large organization, you have people who are doing all of that work. You’re reviewing it, you’re approving it, you’re meeting with him to discuss it. So yes, limit the number of meetings, but it’s a whole other episode. I guess. We talked recently about internal team meetings, I guess. Yeah. Recent episode. But yeah, so I don’t want to go too far down that rabbit hole again. I get agitated again.

Gini Dietrich  

You do? It’s kind of funny. I know the buttons to push.

Chip Griffin  

Yes. So anyway, take time off. Encourage your team to take time off. Maybe don’t force them to do it. Because then you feel guilty when they quit.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think she was feeling a lot of pressure in general. And then that was the definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Right. And I learned a lesson, I learned a lesson.

Chip Griffin  

Okay, hopefully, listeners have learned a lesson as well and have gotten some good insights from us. And unfortunately, Gini, you will be back next week. So you’re.. that offer of time off has been rescinded.

Gini Dietrich  

Well, thanks, but I am going to take my birthday off.

Chip Griffin  

Okay. Just send me a calendar update. With that, we’re going to draw this episode to a close because we’re headed right off the rails here. And I didn’t even have to check in from vacation to find that out. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich, 

Chip Griffin  

and it depends.

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