Nike Is Closing Its Corporate Offices, Giving Workers a Week Off To ‘Prioritize Mental Health’
Nike, the sneaker and apparel giant, closed its corporate office for a week to help its employees relax and recharge. The pandemic made us appreciate the importance of paying attention to mental health issues in the workplace. The outbreak forced us to confront the challenges that people have been enduring. Unrelenting anxiety, stress, uncertainty, fear and isolation have wreaked havoc on the mental health of many Americans.
Growing up in a hardscrabble part of Brooklyn, New York, before it became gentrified and hip, it wasn’t acceptable to talk about your feelings. If you wanted to share with friends that you were going through some depression or burnout, you’d be met with the unique Brooklynese vernacular of the time, “forgetaboutit,” stop complaining and “man up.”
It's different now. Companies have recognized that they need to look after the well-being of their people. It's unfortunate that it took a global pandemic to come to this realization, but better late than never. In a LinkedIn post, Matt Marrazzo, a senior manager of global marketing science at Nike wrote, “Teams at Nike will start closing their laptops for our regular Summer Friday hours. But today is *extra* special.” He then added, “Nike HQ is also powering down for a full week off starting next Monday. Our senior leaders are all sending a clear message: take the time to unwind, destress and spend time with your loved ones. Do not work.”
Marrazzo said in his post that Nike is empathetic and understanding of all of the difficulties faced by its staff, and there is a need to offer some reprieve from the everyday challenges of working during a pandemic. “In a year (or two) unlike any other, taking time for rest and recovery is key to performing well and staying sane. This past year has been rough—we're all human! and living through a traumatic event!—but I'm hopeful that the empathy and grace we continue to show our teammates will have a positive impact on the culture of work moving forward.”
He clarified, “It's not just a ‘week off’ for the team...it's an acknowledgment that we can prioritize mental health and still get work done.” Marrazzo called out to other companies, “Support your people. It's good business, but it's also the right thing to do.”
In the Oregonian, an associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Law with an emphasis on employment law and practices, Liz Tippett, applauded the bold move and said, "I like raising the focus of mental health as a basis for people to take their time off, not just when they're physically ill." Tippett added, "I think it's important to recognize the role mental health plays for workers and worker well-being."
One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is that we’ve learned that we don’t have to continue business as usual and do things because “we’ve always done it this way.” The almost-two-year mass experiment of working remotely from home blew a gigantic hole in the archaic arguments of companies forcing their employees to commute for hours, then spend long days laboring away in cubicles under harsh flickering fluorescent lighting in bland office buildings.
Nike is onto something. Our brutal working hours are literally killing us. According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), “Long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% increase since 2000.” The substantial number of strokes and heart disease resulted from working “at least 55 hours a week.”
The study by the WHO and ILO concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with a higher risk of a stroke and dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35 to 40 hours a week. There is heightened concern that people are working increasingly longer hours, which puts more people at risk of an “early death.” They are literally working themselves to death.
In light of this study, companies should start offering more time off. It would make for a more motivated and appreciated workforce. A growing number of businesses are embracing this idea. They are giving their workers an extra week off and other variations of this theme. Some corporations are having everyone take off at the same time to cut down on the self-induced pressure to keep working during the additional time away from the office.
We are also starting to see other worker-friendly initiatives. Remote work-from-home options, deploying a hybrid model that incorporates a combination of in-office and at-home schedules, staggered flexible hours to accommodate child care, four-day workweeks and five-hour days are now open to discussions and implementation.
LinkedIn, the white-collar social media platform, provided its workers an extra paid week off in April. Teuila Hanson, LinkedIn's chief people officer, said about the decision, “We wanted to make sure we could give them something really valuable, and what we think is most valuable right now is time for all of us to collectively walk away." She added, "I think the reality of the weight of the pandemic really took its toll during those months. That was a heavy time. That is when we were seeing: 'wow there is clear burnout.'" Intel, Microsoft, Bumble, Hootsuite, Mozilla, Marriott International and other companies have offered similar types of programs.
Nike’s policy is a smart business decision. Companies that show their appreciation and gratitude toward employees will benefit. They’ll have a highly motivated and happier workforce. A refreshed, appreciative and energized team will vastly improve results at the company.