Why company offers employees one 'notification free' week every year

As more employees are burned out, organization is cracking down on out-of-office emails

Why company offers employees one 'notification free' week every year

An inability to relax and detach from work is causing a mental health crisis – that’s according to Hootsuite’s chief people and diversity officer Tara Ataya.

Speaking to HRD, Ataya revealed that, as a collective, the rising reliance on our digital society is a core concern for employers and HR leaders alike.

“At Hootsuite, our employees are telling us that they feel their mental health is supported and are able to manage stress effectively, but the continued blurred line between work and home life is making it difficult for some to ‘turn off’ at the end of the workday,” she explained. “This can easily escalate into burnout if it becomes a regular occurrence, which is a huge area we’re trying to intercept and help our employees navigate. Recently, we implemented a new work-life harmony policy, which sets boundaries for off-work hour communications and guidelines for managing communications between timezones, to ensure our Owls aren’t receiving non-urgent work alerts during their personal time.”

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For HR leaders, spotting these hidden signs of mental health struggles has become a full-time concern. It was difficult enough in in-office models, but now as the majority of us work either hybrid or fully remote it’s incredibly challenging to see when a member of your team is suffering. Ataya suggests playing close attention to the aftereffects of mental health struggles. Look at issues like absenteeism, productivity – are the team meeting their goals or are they falling behind?

“Mental health is a personal journey and challenges can manifest differently for everyone,” she told HRD. “One common indicator of mental health concerns is productivity loss or lack of engagement. Any change in behaviour is indicative of a larger issue and should flag to employers that a conversation is needed. Mental-health related stigma is still very prevalent, and employees may feel uncomfortable opening up about their personal struggles, which ultimately results in an impact on work performance. Often all it takes for an employee to feel seen and heard is for manager to check in and begin an open dialogue.”

It should come as no surprise that Ataya is something of a guru in the mental health space. As Hootsuite’s first ever chief diversity officer, a commitment to overall wellbeing – everything from mental to physical to financial – is of the upmost priority. At Hootsuite, Ataya has been on a mission to redefine what a healthy culture means and looks like. This culminated in the launching of Wellness Week – a company-wide initiative where their entire workforce unplugs for a whole week.”

“This initiative was born out of recognition that often when employees take vacation, they can feel the need to check notifications or spend time cleaning up their inbox while they are off in an effort to avoid hours ‘catching up’ upon their return,” Ataya told HRD. “While we take every effort to avoid this, such as implementing work-life harmony policies, we know that it can be unavoidable and wanted to make sure that all employees enjoyed a notification-free week off each year - no questions asked. With all employees unplugging together, we’re able to ensure that employees can forgo the need to check notifications and come back from vacation with a clean slate and clear inbox.

“Mental health is embedded in our DNA. We feel a sense of responsibility for our employees’ health and wellbeing and recognize that in order to be successful as a business, we need to create an environment that builds our employees up and allows them to bring their whole selves to work each and every day.”

The first week of May is always celebrated as Mental Health Week – and while this is great reminder of the importance of mental wellbeing, Ayata believes that that mental health week should be every week.

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“While we have come a long way in recognizing the prevalence of mental health challenges, there’s still extensive work that needs to be done in eliminating the stigma,” she told HRD. “Mental health is an incredibly personal journey but there is a huge opportunity for employers to aid in that journey in a positive way. Employers need to have more open discussions with employees about mental health and normalize talking about solutions, in turn showing their workforce that it’s okay to not be okay.”

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