21-hour workdays caused this company to start offering one-month sabbaticals for everyone

STHKSTHKSecret Tour Hong Kong staff.

Achieving work-life balance is hard enough with an eight-hour workday. But a 21-hour day? Forget it.

Such is life at the boutique ad agency Secret Tour Hong Kong, where normal work days are 10 hours long and overtime days are often twice that.

STHK co-founders Jennifer Yip and Stephen Chung believe that hard work deserves recognition, however, which is why the company will begin offering annual one-month paid sabbaticals to each of their 16 employees starting later this August.

Half the staff will take the time from August to September; the other half will take it the following month — all of it fully paid.

The perk joins an existing time-off policy of 10 paid days each year and compensation for weekends and holidays.

Yip says it’s critical for employees to recharge their brains after a draining string of rushed deadlines and hectic projects. And it’s especially true, she says, in a country where student and employee suicide due to overwork has made national headlines.

“Everybody, especially creatives, should have some personal time to really take a look into what we’re doing and digest,” Yip tells Business Insider. “But normally we don’t have this time to do it.”

Yip and Chung came up with the new policy based on designer Stefan Sagmeister’s method of taking a full year off every seven years. Looking at the demands they place on their staff, they realised they needed to make a drastic change.

On ordinary days, employees arrive around 11 a.m. and stay until 9 or 10 p.m. On overtime days, they show up at 7 a.m. and stay as late as 4 a.m. the following day — a bleary-eyed 21-hour shift.

Yip says 50% of the days in a given month will be overtime shifts. She admits the firm needs to work on its time-management skills.

There are other benefits that make around-the-clock shifts more tolerable, Yip says. All overtime expenses are covered by the company, and there are no limits to how much employees can spend on dinners and taxis during that window. But that doesn’t really mitigate the larger effects of working nearly a full day in a single stretch.

As for the new policy, Yip is optimistic that employees won’t simply continue working during their month off in order to avoid falling behind. STHK has found people already have concrete plans for their free month. Some are going on silent retreats; others are signing up for extended yoga retreats.

Once they return, Yip hopes they will feel refreshed and clear-headed.

“The only thing I believe we will have is a true, happy, and creative atmosphere, which will help us to gain more client opportunities that we want,” she says.

IEven in a place like Hong Kong, where poor work-life balance is common, Yip believes experimenting with the policy will make those benefits clear.

“Even if they don’t take any action,” she says, “they can start reflecting to see if they are truly respecting who’s working really hard for them.”

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