‘We’re putting the power back in our employees’ hands’: Why a marketing tech company is giving employees a paid week off

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As employee burnout reaches a pandemic-induced fever pitch, more companies are desperately looking for ways to keep staff productive and happy. To stop the bleeding and promote employee wellness, a number of agencies have started experimenting with company perks like Summer Fridays, fitness programs, and getting creative with remote work by partnering with local coffee and bike shops.

And after 18 months of navigating the pandemic in the U.S., Kinesso, a global marketing technology company under agency holding company IPG, can be added to the list. The New York City-based company will close all U.S. offices the first week of September to give employees paid time off to rest before stepping into Q4, which can often be the busiest time of year, according to Renu Hooda, global chief talent officer at Kinesso.

“We’re all so swamped and busy, and I think family time is really important to our people,” Hooda said. “We want to give them that time off to rejuvenate, reconnect with their families, recover and recognize that slowing down is OK.”

While Kinesso has long since offered Summer Fridays, a holiday break in December and discretionary PTO, the summer week is a recent decision to prevent stress and employee burnout brought on by the global pandemic blurring the lines between work and life. Per Hooda, these initiatives will stay in place even in a post-pandemic society and she hopes it sparks a broader conversation about what the future of work could look like in adland.

“We’re working with one assumption, which is: we’ve hired you and you are a strong, mature leader. We trust you,” she said. “We’re trusting you with our business, we’re trusting you with our clients, we’re trusting you with our people.”

With more than 2,000 employees (made up of Kinesso and its addressable activation company Matterkind), it’s the company’s latest efforts to mitigate industry-wide burnout, on top of things it already has in place like discretionary paid time off, holiday break, summer Fridays and a hybrid work model that was also instated due to the pandemic.

The new summer break is open to all U.S. employees and won’t impact paid time off. Kinesso clients and partners have already been given the heads up about the company’s decision, Hooda said.

“Our people stepped up and delivered when we needed them,” she said, flicking at staff productivity during the pandemic. “So why shouldn’t we do the same when it’s our turn, as a business, to step up and deliver for our people?”

Fortunately for Kinesso, the company has been able to maintain its employee turnover rate, which has hovered around 18-20%, for the last few years thanks to initiatives like the ones Kinesso currently has in place, per Hooda. Glassdoor reports 2020 turnover statistics at 57.3%.

That’s not to say that the company hasn’t felt the impact the pandemic has had on work. In fact, Hooda said, the summer break initiative comes after employee feedback reported feelings of stress and burnout as the line between work life and personal life became more blurred during the pandemic lockdown.

Wu Mahmood, senior vice president of addressable strategy and activation at Matterkind, said burnout isn’t typically an issue. But in light of the pandemic, it’s been a struggle and the additional time off is welcome.

“The week off is a reminder that our people are our most important asset and by prioritizing their mental health we as an industry will be able to better service our clients,” Mahmood said.

Should a client have a need during that time off, Yerddy Lanfranco, vice president of analytics and marketing sciences at Kinesso, said it’ll be on a case-by-case basis as to how it’s handled.

“I try to be present in all aspects of life, thus when I am taking time off to spend with my family I try to be true to it and enjoy it,” Lanfranco said. “COVID has shown us that life is short and that we need to create memories that will always live with those who we loved the most.”

Across the industry, employees are grappling with blurring work-life balance lines in light of pandemic lockdown. And with the rise in Covid variants, the industry-wide conversation around perfecting the balance between productivity and employee wellness shows no signs of slowing down.

Per previous Digiday reporting, 60% of employees agreed that taking “mental health days” was important. However, the average worker last year left seven unused days of vacation on the table. 

“[Kinesso’s summer break] is a recognition that additional time off only works when everyone can take a break at the same time to truly disconnect,” said Marla Kaplowitz, president and CEO of the 4A’s. “If the old saying ‘Work hard. Play hard’ is embraced, employees need to take advantage of the vacation days offered to rest and recharge.”

For Kaplowitz, adland cannot afford to overlook employee well-being as it’s directly related to productivity, and it goes for both agencies and their client’s expectations of ad staff, she said.

“It’s a positive sign that we’re having these conversations as we’re not the only industry reconciling with the accelerated pace of work and expectations due to remote working,” she said.

Ultimately, Kinesso is bolstering itself, bracing for the “turnover tsunami” expected to hit as employees start looking for new jobs post-pandemic, according to the Society of Human Resource Professionals.

“We’re putting the power back in our employees’ hands,” Hooda said. “I think if we take care of our people, they will step up and do the right thing for the business.”


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