If you were trying to contact a Spotify employee anywhere in the world between November 1st – 5th, you would have found yourself on the receiving end of an OOO (Out of Office) message telling you that the Spotifier you were trying to reach was taking part in Spotify’s Wellness Week.
Wellness week was an initiative that gave all Spotify employees a week off of work to focus on their health and well-being. Spotifiers were welcome to enjoy a week of travel, spending time with friends/family, binge-watching tv shows, reading a few books, or doing absolutely nothing at all. As long as they were not working, then we’d accomplished our mission.
Why did we do this? Simply put, we all needed a break. A break from our jobs, and time to focus on our health and well-being. We are very aware of the toll that the forced working from home and other aspects of the pandemic has had on us. We also know that one of the main triggers of burnout is the inability to disconnect from work, and in the past few years the lack of disconnect from work has been extremely prevalent. In addition, stress and anxiety levels have never been higher from the effects of lockdowns, working from home, homeschooling, video call fatigue, and everything else that has been thrown our way. All of a sudden, our boundaries between work and home have become unclear, creating a massive work-life imbalance. The rapid innovation in technology paired with the desire to stay as connected to our colleagues and the rest of the world as possible, means our tendency to stay on screens 24/7 has been further fuelled, and the lines between work and home have become even more blurred.
Like all things we do in HR at Spotify, the decision to move forward and launch Wellness Week came from recognizing our people as our greatest asset. The concept of a wellness week is nothing new, but it felt right for us at Spotify because of our purpose-led culture. After all, if our employees burn out, how will they be contributing to our purpose then? And what sort of business operates well with a burned-out workforce? None.
Leading by Example for Good Mental health Practices
We also felt a little bit practiced on many people taking time off together due to our Swedish roots. Summers in Sweden see entire offices closing whilst staff go on vacation, making the most of the long days and soaking in the long-awaited sunlight. Leaning on the Swedish Summer experience was important since both our HR and Senior Management team agreed that in order for this to work, for everyone to be able to get a well-needed and deserved break, that every single Spotifier needed to take part in taking the week off. Everyone – no exceptions.
This is when leading by example was truly tested for us. We acknowledged that if we do Wellness Week, but some individuals or teams are forced to work, then it would do more harm than good, so this was something that was very important to us during the planning phase, and receiving leadership support and commitment on this was crucial.
Now I’d like to share with you a brief synopsis of my experience. Fast forward to November 1st, and I wake up to the first day of Wellness Week. Waking up on a Monday morning to no emails was a strange feeling. Drinking my morning coffee and looking at an empty calendar was even more strange to me, especially given that I was not on a personal vacation where I would normally use my vacation days while the rest of my team were working. The silence was eerie at times, as I was just waiting for emails to eventually start creeping in. Then I wake up on Tuesday, unlock my phone expecting to see a flurry of emails from my team and boss. Nothing. No emails. No calendar reminders. And it was radio silence for the entire week. Fast forward to Friday, as I am sitting on a beach, staring at my still empty email inbox. The only interaction I had with other coworkers was when they sent me photos of how they are spending their Wellness Week, whether it be rock climbing, traveling to countries on their bucket list, spending true quality time with the kids, or simply sitting on a couch watching TV.
To be honest, it took me a few days to wrap my head around the fact that for this one week, I had zero worries or concerns about work, and I had all this time to focus on my family, health and wellbeing. I also think this experience early in the week validated that detaching from work does not happen instantaneously. It takes a few days, feedback that we heard a lot from our people when they returned to work.
Go All In on Putting Your People First
If you are a company thinking of doing something similar to this, you have to make sure that you go all in. Leaders need to lead by example and shut off and disconnect first. Like a domino effect, your people will follow and do the same. If your leaders and business cannot commit to that, don’t plan a week off like this – it will add extra stress and pressure rather than help your employees. The only way to truly put your greatest asset (your people) first is to care for their mental health, and not just a few, or even a majority of them. It’s got to be all of them.
The ability to detach from work is not at all easy, especially throughout this pandemic. It requires conviction, discipline, and strategy. And however disciplined and strategic you are about this, if you do not work in an environment that supports and advocates for a healthy work-life balance, this may cause more stress to individuals.
We’re proud that it worked at Spotify because it aligns with our culture and values. It worked because we have amazing leaders who lead by example. It worked because of the way our Swedish roots are embedded in our DNA as a company. Now let’s see what we can achieve with our newly refreshed workforce. Onwards and upwards!
Michael is a highly accomplished global Human Resources leader with over 15 years of experience in strategizing and implementing global talent initiatives that drive business results and improves both employee and company performance. He is a trusted business partner to C-level and executive management teams with an extensive record of executing high impact global talent solutions.
Michael currently serves as Head of HR APAC at Spotify, where he is responsible for driving the overall people strategy for the region. His innovative design of Spotify’s revamped parental leave program has received global recognition for taking the #leadonleave for companies supporting families, establishing work life balance, and driving inclusivity within the workplace.
Michael has worked across a broad spectrum of industries including Technology, Investment Banking & Markets, Media, and Advertising. Prior to joining Spotify, Michael was a Vice President of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, where he was responsible for leading strategic people initiatives across the Technology division globally.