In a world that increasingly values hustle and glorifies burnout, its refreshing to hear leaders speak out against philosophies that advocate working yourself to the bone.
Jason Fried is one of those leaders. Hes the co-founder and CEO of an incredibly successful tech company called Basecamp, which was started in 1999, and continues to thrive today.
Two of the things that make Basecamps success story so remarkable are that Fried has intentionally kept the company smallthey have under 50 employeesand that no one is expected to work more than 40 hours each week. Its a lean, efficient team that has produced several products, including its signature project management tool, which the company is named after.
We recently had the chance to talk to Fried about the culture at Basecamp, including his strong sentiments around working more reasonable hours, and taking better care of our personaland healthneeds. Heres a snippet from our conversation:
Fried has become increasingly vocal about the need to work more humane hours. In a recent article for Inc., he named burnout the enemy of intelligence, patience, and creativity. I wanted to know more about his thought process, and asked him why he feels so strongly about this:
40 hours a week is plenty of time. Its a lot of time, especially when you start getting people together. When you have three or four people working on a problem, thats 120 or 160 hours a week of time that people are spending on that problem.
That is a lot of time. Its more than enough time, if you squeeze out all the stuff that doesnt matter, if you dont pay attention to things that are distracting you, if you cut the noise down.
As we discussed the importance of moderating work hours, I asked Fried if he himself adheres to the 40-hour rule.
Absolutely. You have to. In general people follow the leader, so if they see you working late at night or on weekends, no matter what you say, theyre going to think theres a quiet expectation that they should do the same.
I think you need to set the example and be really firm about that, otherwise people are going to end up sliding down that slope, and end up working too many hours or late at night.
Fried believes in the importance of taking time off, and noted that when employees dont take sufficient vacation time, he proactively reminds them to do so. To further incentivize people who have a harder time disconnecting, Basecamp actually pays for part of their peoples vacations.
Every year, we give everybody a list of 16 trips that we put together, and theyre able to pick one of those. We pay for them completelyfor them, and their wife, husband, partner, kids. Theyre always to really interesting places, and we take care of all the costs. By doing thatbecause we actually pay for ittheres no question of, Well, I cant quite afford it right now.
One of the biggest challenges with unlimited vacation time is that people become apprehensive to take any time off because theyre too afraid of abusing the policy, or looking lazy. Thats exactly what happened at Basecamp before they switched over to the vacation package model.
We used to have an unlimited vacation policy, and found that thats actually a bad idea because theres not really an expectation of what that means. People inherently have this conflict with, Well, is it too much, or not enough?
Basecamp Careers page
Its just better to be clear with people, so weve revised that since. We give everyone three weeks off a year, so basic vacation plus holidayswhatever their national holidays are because some people live in different countries.
We had a lot more success with people taking vacations once we actually specified the exact vacation time, versus the unlimited thing. I think the unlimited thing is a good idea, in concept, but its so hard to deliver on, and for people to use that, so its just better to be clear.
We give everybody three-day weekends from May to October, so thats a way to at least get people away from work a little bit longer during summer months.
We used to do it all year round, but we decided that it wasnt special enough when its all year round. Im a big believer in seasons, and having different things happen at different time of the year. Whats cool with the 4-day weeks from May to October is that people anticipate them and get excited about them when spring rolls around.
Every three years, people are encouragedand remindedto take 30 days paid sabbatical. Thats on top of vacation time for that year as well, so its almost that third year or so, you get almost two months off.
Scheduling is sometimes difficult for that. If theyre married, or they have a partner that has a job, and they cant both get off at the same time, or if one year doesnt work for someone and they have to wait til their fourth year, thats obviously finewe can work around that.
We highly encourage and remind people to take the sabbatical, and we celebrate it. Some people go somewhere for 30 days. A lot of people just take a vacation plus do some stuff at home and catch up on life, and things theyve been putting aside for a while. Someone redid their garage, another did some work on their house.
Its just a good time for people to stay away, and we highly encourage them not to check in with work at all. Most people are really good about that. Some people do check in, because they want totheyre into it. But the clear expectation is, We dont want to hear from you. I dont want to hear from you. Go enjoy your 30 days. Were happy to have you back when youre back, but please, stay away from work.
I think its a really important thing to do, and a healthy thing to clear your mind for a while. I havent taken one of those myself I should do that.
In general people follow the leader, so if they see you working late at night or on weekends, no matter what you say, theyre going to think theres a quiet expectation that they should do the same. Jason Fried
Wed love to hear your thoughts on what a healthy workweek looks like. Do you think its realistic to work just 8-hours per week day? Why or why not?
Are incentives like vacation time, summer hours and sabbaticals just perks, or truly important to the development of a healthy company?