Culture   //   June 1, 2022

‘It’s not about the time at your desk’: Why this agency is giving employees 70 days off

This article was first published on our sibling site Digiday.

At a time when many agencies are beckoning employees back to the office, Tinuiti is giving staff more time off. The New York City-based performance marketing firm has recently ramped up its efforts to curb employee burnout, offering staff up to 70 paid days off per year. Last year, more than a third of U.S. employees at private companies received 10 to 14 paid days off after the first year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Those 70 days include three mandatory, company-wide, week-long closures as well as holidays, mental wellness days, a minimum of 20 PTO days per year and Flex Fridays, on which employees can log off at 1 p.m. local time. Sick time is not included in that time off and the new, beefed-up policy does not affect employee salary. However, an employee cannot take more than three weeks of consecutive PTO days. To ensure clients’ needs are met, staff members are offered an incentive to volunteer to be on-call in case of an emergency, according to Tinuiti’s chief people officer Jeff Batuhan.

All this is not to say that more paid time off is the single answer to employee burnout and the way to win the talent wars. Across the industry, and in corporate America at large, research has shown employees often take fewer vacation days in an environment with unlimited vacation, as there is often no guidance around how many days they should take off, according to Fast Company.

Increasing PTO started as an effort to give employees an opportunity to recharge in late 2021 at the peak of the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Over the last year, and in the middle of what’s being called the war for talent, agencies have been pulling out all the stops to not only attract employees but to keep them. Digiday caught up with Batuhan to talk about keeping staff energized during a pandemic, work-life balance and Tinuiti’s future of work.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

At a time when so many agencies are working to see more of their staff in the office, you’re offering more days off. Why?

We empower our employees to get the work done. It’s not about the time at your desk. It’s not about the login at the computer, it’s about getting the work done. We have a very achievement-oriented culture — meaning our employees work longer hours because they want to get the work done. We say you work eight hours a day. Sometimes you work 10 hours. Sometimes you work less. It’s really that culture of [time and work management] ownership. It is also easier to take the time off when everyone else is off, because you’re not getting somebody’s email and feeling bad that someone else is covering for you. That’s why a lot of employees don’t take the PTO. They feel bad about the other people having to take the work. But when they know that everyone else is off, you can really unplug.

How do these efforts fit into greater conversations about the talent wars and Great Resignation?

Attracting and retaining talent is definitely part of our people strategy as a company. We are intentional about how we are focusing on our people and our culture. This is just one of the areas that we really are focusing on, because people first is something that’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do. We’ve really worked hard since the inception of the company to put the people first before everything else — before clients, before profit, before anything in tough times and in good times. For example, [when the pandemic hit] we did not furlough anyone. We didn’t lay anyone off. We focused on, how do we become more strategic? Because we know that if we are committed to our employees, they will be committed back to us.

Seventy days off is nearly 20% of the year. That’s a lot. How are you talking to clients about it?

We talk about our culture of ownership and growing happiness, and what that means to them in return. Because again, our performance with our clients is measured by the employee happiness that fuels their growth in their business. They know that our employees are going to focus, make sure and they will be working very hard. And it’s measured on the performance and not the hours that they’re here. It’s also knowing that even though the team’s out, if we need to get something done, it will get done. We started communication with them two months ago. It’s about change management through them too, so that they know and they really appreciated that.

Was there any pushback from clients?

There are a lot of questions, but we’ve addressed them as they come in. It’s inquiries and questions from clients just to make sure that they understand how it’s going to work.

What can other agencies learn from your approach?

When you say you are focused on your people first, actually mean it and put actions to it. Don’t just let it be lip service. Some companies now are trying to force their people back into the office when people don’t want to come back to the office. If you really care about your people, listen to your people. Autonomy, flexibility — these are the things that a lot of our employees today care about.