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Culture
8 Min Read

Rethinking Your Benefits Program To Foster Peak Performance

Shane Metcalf, CCO of 15Five

Company cultures can be transformational. 

Work can be more than a job; work can be a life changing experience that gives people tools, resources, and perspectives that they take with them the rest of their lives and that benefit them in every other domain that they walk.

So when we design our employee benefits programs we’re starting with these questions: 

How can we support people having a transformational experience here? 

How can our perks actually align with helping people to be and become their best selves?

Below, I’ll tell you about a new benefit that is uncommon for companies of our size, and one that many find risky. I actually think it’s risky not to do it. But first, here are some of the many progressive employee benefits that we offer:

  • Flexible Time Off, which is untracked but requires hitting performance metrics and goals
  • 16 weeks Paid Parental Leave for birth, adoption, or foster care for birth and non-birth parents
  • Military Leave
  • 401k with 4% matching
  • Internet Reimbursement
  • Team & Company Off-sites
  • Aaptiv virtual fitness classes
  • Wellness Coach for meditation and movement classes, courses, workshops, and interactive panels
  • Carrot fertility guidance
  • Ginger for on-demand mental health support to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression 

Our latest benefit, though, is truly exciting…

15Five’s Sabbatical Program

Living out our former value of embrace freedom and flexibility, which basically said, “Work where you want and how you do your best work, as long as you’re achieving your outcomes. We don’t really care about the inputs, we care about the outputs.” Flexibility was a more cutting edge perk, but once COVID hit then all of a sudden remote work became the default option nearly everywhere in the professional world. 

I wanted to keep innovating and pushing the envelope with cultural experimentation and employee benefits. I’ve been wanting to do a sabbatical program for many years now, sourced from my own desire after ten years of building this company to create a break for myself, but also because I fundamentally believe that time off is good for the business. (Scroll to the bottom of the post to see the full details of the program.)

I remember watching a Ted talk called The Power of Time Off in which Stefan Sagmeister shares how he shut down the entire architecture firm every seven years. And everybody has a yearlong sabbatical. Stefan talks about how all the innovations for the next seven years of the company come out of that year off:

Now Stefan’s is an extreme example, and creating a six to eight week sabbatical program feels like a very low risk move compared to trying to convince my board that we should take an entire year off. But the point is that innovation and growth and development aren’t linear processes and that sometimes by slowing down you actually speed up.

We’re launching this sabbatical program because there are aspects of a human being’s development that aren’t well suited to growth during full time work. We also took a cue from the Deliberately Developmental Organization model where growth and development should be happening every day in the flow of work, versus that only happening during an off site or a coaching session.

We want growth and development to be continual and available to everyone via opportunities like our monthly Wellness/ Learning & Development stipend that is used on gym memberships, fitness classes, books, seminars, coaches, and trainings. We also initiated Best-Self Time in 2020, a two hour block on Fridays designed to support personal development practices that leave people even more creative, more productive and more motivated to serve our customers and community. Personal development is professional development and vice versa. 

What employee benefits do people want?

How do you know what benefits your people want? Well, ask them. You can do this directly or by crafting a culture where people are not afraid to speak up and have adequate channels to do so. (We do both!) Many of the benefits listed here came to fruition through the passionate advocacy of our employees.

We also collected data from engagement surveys to see where certain teams are in terms of performance and capacity. This is an important part of what engagement surveys do, they allow HR and PeopleOps to understand, pivot, and modify perks and benefits operating principles in real time.

So as another example, based on what we learned from polling our people, we implemented No Meeting Thursdays company-wide. We encourage people to set aside Thursdays for uninterrupted deep work to increase the the capacity driver of engagement. While setting aside meeting-free blocks of time has been practiced sporadically amongst various teams and departments, implementing this is the first time we have tested it on a company-wide scale.

One of our employees, Christine Hare, shared that “Capacity is not just workload, but equally about understanding priorities.” In giving everyone permission to block off a whole day to decline meetings, and focus and get things done, we hope that this encourages everyone to re-evaluate standing meetings and priorities, and consider more efficient ways of collaborating with fellow 15Fivers like workin together asynchronously within a document.

As all things 15Five go, we are granting everyone the freedom and flexibility to implement Deep Work Thursdays in a way that suits them best. Customer meetings are still the priority, and time-sensitive, critical meetings may need to happen on occasion, but we all generally respect each other’s deep work blocks.

Human beings are very complex and dynamic creatures and there is no-one-size-fits-all benefits approach. So being innovative and creating flexibility in employee benefits allows you the most surface area for helping people grow into who they want to be. And just in case part of that might include a sabbatical program, I have included the details of ours below. Here’s to your people continuing to become their best selves at work.


Sabbatical Program Details

Policy

At 15Five, we believe that fostering thriving in our employees’ personal lives leads to happier, healthier, and more productive employees at work. To celebrate and recognize 15Fivers who have contributed to our business success, we are launching a sabbatical program for all eligible 15Fivers. This temporary break from the workplace gives employees an opportunity to relieve stress and feel rejuvenated, while also enriching their lives and achieving personal growth and development. Typically, sabbaticals are used to pursue higher education, travel, learn new skills, volunteer, and more. Whatever the purpose, we hope that all 15Fivers who take advantage of this program will be in pursuit of their Best-Self!

Eligibility

All full-time 15Five employees are eligible to apply for the sabbatical program once they have been employed full-time for at least five consecutive years (includes time spent employed at Emplify). Employees who apply for the sabbatical program should not have any unresolved performance or conduct issues. 

Guidelines

  • 15Fivers who meet all of the above listed eligibility requirements may apply for the following sabbatical periods
    • After five years of continuous employment, you may apply for a six week sabbatical period

OR

  • You can wait until you have accrued seven years of continuous employment and apply for an eight week sabbatical period
  • Note: Employees who take a parental leave of absence are not eligible to apply for a sabbatical until 12 months after they have returned from leave.
  • Once you have taken your sabbatical, you are not eligible to apply for another five years
  • Sabbaticals are paid, with continued benefits 
    • For roles with commission and other variable compensation, you will be paid at an average of your commission/OTE from the three months prior to taking your sabbatical
  • The purpose of a sabbatical is to have a consecutive, meaningful amount of time away from work. You cannot break up your sabbatical period into smaller periods of time off – this would be disruptive to the business and difficult to accommodate coverage for.

How to Apply

Employees must get approval from their manager, department head and People Operations at least six months before their desired sabbatical date so that accommodations can be made to limit any interruptions to the business. Approval for the sabbatical program is not guaranteed, and you may need to apply for the program at a later date if your absence would negatively impact near-term business goals and team performance. 

  • To apply:
    • Discuss taking your sabbatical with your manager. They will confer with the department head and People Ops, and will make a decision based on the needs of the business and staffing.
    • After both the department head and your manager approves your sabbatical, you must submit an email to People Ops (cc your manager), notifying them of your desired sabbatical period
    • One you have approval from People Operations, you and your manager are responsible for transferring over any responsibilities and/or projects during your time away

Image Credit: Tron Le on Unsplash