Welcome back to The RecruitingDaily Podcast! Today, we have guest Andrew Gobran, people operations generalist at Doist. He’s here to speak on prioritizing mental health by granting 52 days off to disconnect.
Andrew states he “envision(s) a world where every organization is invested in improving the lived experience of its employees by inviting them to bring their best selves to work, use their gifts and talents in meaningful ways and pursue their personal and professional development.”
In his role at Doist, he navigates a variety of processes throughout the entire employee experience. In addition, he strives to develop an organizational culture in which his team can grow and operate at their natural best.
Doist creates tools that simplify and organize the workday. They employ a fully distributed team of about 90 people based in over 30 countries around the world with a mission to create tools that promote more fulfilling ways to work and live.
A few questions we answer today: How can we help employees disconnect from work when they’re not feeling well? What marketing methods does Doist use? Does having a global community help with their 52 days off strategy?
Of course, there’s more. But you’ll have to listen in to learn. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Listening Time: 31 minutes
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Andrew envisions a world where every organization is invested in improving the lived experience of its employees by inviting them to bring their best selves to work, use their gifts and talents in meaningful ways and pursue their personal and professional development.Follow Follow
This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have Andrew on from Doist. This is going to be a really cool show because it’s prioritizing mental health by granting 52 days off to disconnect. I can’t wait to actually learn about this from Andrew, because A, it’s a cool concept, B, where did you come up with a number 52, and also just the disconnect part. It’s so important for people when they’re away from work to actually be away from work. So Andrew, do us a favor and introduce yourself and introduce Doist.
Sure. Well, thank you for having me, William.
My name is Andrew Gobran. For the past three and a half years, I’ve worked as a people operations generalist at Doist, where I get to invest in culture and processes that enable our team to thrive and be successful. My background spans psychology and human resource development. So, it’s pretty exciting to be able to apply these domains in the context of developing the future of work, and Doist is a pretty exciting place to be able to do that. So just a little bit more about Doist, we’re a remote-first, asynchronous-first team of 90 people, about 90, 95 people spread across over 30 countries. So we have pretty much a very global presence. Our mission is to inspire the workplace of the future by creating tools that promote a more fulfilling way to work and live.
Currently, our two core products are Todoist, which is a productivity app that helps people organize their work in life, and Twist, which is our team communication app that helps teams balance focused work with collaborative conversations. So those are our two core products. A big part of how we work is driven by our values and our mission to really make sure that everyone feels invested in and can thrive and really use their talents for good in the world.
I love that. More importantly, again, you’ve got people all over the world and you’re developing tools for companies that have people all over the world. I think in Silicon Valley, they either say, “Eat your own garbage,” or “Drink your own champagne,” one of those two cliches, but you’re actually using the tools that Doist creates, so that for y’all, for yourselves, for your company, that’s almost kind of a little bit of an R&D as well, because as you learn things that need to be added or changed about the products, then that helps your clients as well.
I love that. Love that. I love that. So this concept, first of all, I love that we’re talking about mental health. You know and I know it’s been taboo in HR to talk about mental health in the way that we should. We’ve had EAPs and things off to the side. You can get therapy. There’s even taboo around talking to HR historically about even using some of the resources that are there or have been there historically. So I really like that y’all are talking about it and talking about it in the context of, “Okay. We want you to be happy. Obviously, you’re the whole human being. You’re much more than just something, a cog in the work wheel.” And so, A, thank you for talking about mental health, B, the 52 days off to disconnect. Obviously, this didn’t just come out of nowhere. Take us into the story of where this came from.
Yeah, absolutely. So I guess going back to when we started making changes to our previous policies, we previously had this 25-day vacation policy, plus your local and national holidays, which was a great system, pretty standard and it works. But with people distributed in so many different countries, that becomes pretty tedious to manage because you have 30 different countries worth of national holidays. People are living in places where they may not originally be from. Different countries have different amounts of national holidays. So it was just a very cluttered system with an unequally distributed number of vacation days. Also, it just wasn’t very inclusive of maybe people’s desires to celebrate holidays that aren’t available where they live. And so, with our first principle thinking, we just thought, “Okay. How can we make this simpler and how can we make it easier to manage?”
And so, we figured out how many countries or how many vacation or national holidays different countries have and we’ve adapted our policy to combine that 20, 25 days with some additional days and ended up with 40 days. And so, now, the policy is 40 days, including national holidays that you deduct from the same budget. Now, everyone receives the same number of days. They can take any holidays they want to take and they can disregard the ones that they maybe don’t identify with, but it ended up being a very simple solution to a problem that didn’t really need to be there. The only requirements around that is that people have to take at least 30 of those 40 days off each year. When they do take time off, they have to fully disconnect from work. There’s no email, no responding to messages on Twist, nothing, full disconnection to be able to recharge and enjoy other parts of life that they want to invest in, whether it’s family, friends, their vacation, hobbies, anything.
It’s funny because, Andrew, this is the opposite. A hundred years ago, I had an ad agency, and one of the things we moved to was a fixed federal holidays in the U.S. because we were just within the four walls of the U.S., the federal holidays, plus two or three weeks, whatever the bit was, we moved to an unlimited PTO. One of the reasons we did that is at the time, now, this is a long time ago, but at the time the thought was sometimes just people just want to go to a museum. They don’t need to tell us that they’re sick and then they want to go to a museum, just they need to be. They want to go up. They want to go to a museum, go to a museum. That’s fun, but there was this, again, kind of a taboo or whatever. It’s like, “Oh, I have to be sick to not be at work.” There’s got to be some type of trauma or whatever.
So we went to unlimited PTO, but that was actually an abject failure for us because people wouldn’t use it. It was crazy because we did it with all the best intentions of like, “Hey, listen, we don’t want to be in the tracking business. Just you got work to do, you got life, manage.” It took us a couple of years, I would say, to really recognize that people aren’t taking their time off.
That was a shock to us actually. When we realized that, it’s like, “This is crazy. We have to shut the office down for people to actually stop working.” So, I love the kind of the… Y’all taking it obviously much further and in a much better, much more refined way, where you have to take these days, period. You have to take them and not just take them and still work. No, you have to take them and be away from work. I love that.
Yeah. Yeah. I guess it’s ironic that you talk about the unlimited vacation days policy because when we had to rethink our sick days policy, our sick leave policy, we ran into this discussion again after having had it in the past related to vacation days, because our sick leave policy needed to be changed because we realized over time, the documented policy, which was pretty boilerplate, It didn’t match how we actually do things in practice, because in practice, it was this unspoken expectation that, “You know what, if you’re not feeling well, just let your manager know that you need to take a day to rest and that you’ll be back tomorrow or whatever. You just communicate your need and you do what you need to do.” But over time, we found that, okay, first of all, the documented policy doesn’t match this, which is a problem. And then as people continue to join the company, those newer, less experienced members of the team didn’t have that institutional knowledge to understand-
They’d read the policy.
Right. They would feel this level of guilt if they wanted to take a sick day and weren’t sure what to do. And so, we ultimately decided, “Okay. Well, let’s get the documented policy consistent with what we do.” And then we talked about unlimited sick days. For similar reasons to why unlimited vacation days can be problematic, we ultimately settled on 12 paid health days, one per month just as an arbitrary number. And that got our practice consistent with our documentation. It removed or at least minimized the guilt associated with taking sick days.
And then ultimately, the other part of it, which was important to us was broadening the scope of how we think about sick leave. And that’s why we shifted to this title of health days because rather than thinking of it, “Oh, I’m sick. I need to take time off,” it was more about saying, “Okay. I need to prioritize my health today,” which I highly encourage everyone to do all the time. But when those situations come up when today something is off and I’m not going to be productive at work, whether I had a terrible night of sleep, whether I have a cold or have a family member who’s ill that needs to be taken care of, being able to frame that as an investment that we’re encouraging people to make is a very different… It has a very different taste than a sick day, where you almost need to earn it in order to use it, which is sadly how some companies do things.
Oh, yeah. No, no, you have to lose an arm to take a sick day. It’s like, “I just don’t feel well, period. I can’t even put my finger on how I don’t feel well. I just don’t feel well,” which also gets back to mental health and dealing with health in general, is like when people can’t put their finger on it, and this happened to me yesterday, actually. I woke up with aches and pains and I had a headache and I canceled all my meetings. I went through… communicated with all my teams and moved meetings and did all that type stuff, but I couldn’t put my finger on how I didn’t feel well. But instead of lying or coming up with some other, like I lost a toe, I just told people I didn’t feel well, and there was no issues with it.
Again, we’re all humans. There are days where you just don’t feel well. I’ve even communicated to folks… We’re a small company, so it’s a little bit easier, I guess. But when I don’t have my A-game, there are just days where I just don’t have it. I shouldn’t talk to people. I just don’t have it. I just don’t have the A-game. I’ve found that you know what, it’s easier just to talk to people and say, “You know what, I’m not all here. I don’t know why or how, but I’m just not all here. So that important brainstorm that we’re going to do is going to be fruitless with me because I just don’t have it. So, let’s reschedule.”
Yeah. We think about it in a very similar way. Our company deals with productivity tools. We’re always thinking about productivity and ultimately it comes down to the fact that, “You know what, if you’re not feeling well, then the effort, spinning your wheels on a work that isn’t going to be done with the quality that you’re used to delivering isn’t worth the investment when you could just take the day and rest, and that can be the most productive thing you do that day. And then you come back the next day and you’re able to give that effort towards that work.”
What I love about this is it’s undoing at least a century of you just got to sit at the table and keep slogging it out. That mentality, I think, first of all, it doesn’t set you up for good work. It might even create resentment and morale issues. It’s too easy. But again, y’all are on a cutting edge or on the forefront of doing something like this, but getting it to the conversation being around productivity and around good work, let’s focus the conversation on good work, quality work, et cetera, at setting you up for success to do quality work and be your most productive self. I love that. I did have a question about the disconnect part. Force is not the right word. Encourage is probably a better word of thinking about it. Some people, even if you tell them not to be on email, they’re still going to be on email, but how do you help them with that, like when you’re away, be away?
Yeah. That is a real challenge. Part of it is undoing the damage that a lot of companies have done by almost expecting that while people are away-
… that they continue. So, that’s definitely something we’re aware of, that anytime we’re onboarding new team members, that we have to be conscious of the fact that they’re bringing a lot of those expectations and standards that they’ve maybe been used to other companies to us.
It’s almost like you got to reprogram them.
Yeah. And really to set that expectation. For us, it starts with being clear on our values. One of our values is ambition and balance. And so, the way we think of it is that if we want to be sustainably ambitious, we also have to approach things in a balanced way, which means that constantly pushing and working 24/7 isn’t going to be a sustainable way for us to accomplish anything. Maybe in the short term, but if we truly believe in our long-term vision, then we’re going to have to be able to maintain steam and be able to rebuild energy and reproduce energy to get there. And so, the simplest thing is that we’re very transparent about those expectations. The second thing is more fun, is that if someone does respond to a message while they’re clearly on vacation or even if it’s late and you know that they’re not working this late on a typical day, then we just send them a friendly reminder like, “Hey, you’re on vacation, right? This can wait until tomorrow or until you come back.”
I think having that culture of… And everyone in the company does this by the way, which I think is awesome. It’s not coming from the top down. We collectively hold each other accountable to that, and then in many other ways, not just with just the vacation policy, but in all respect. I think when you have that culture, where everyone shares responsibility in calling out misalignments and extending that friendly hand and reminder to people that, “Hey, we don’t expect you to respond to this. Nothing is going to burn down between now and when you get back, so there’s no rush.”
It’s one thing if you’re in Greece or you’re traveling, you’re on vacation getting in Greece, and you’re showing people Instagram photos of things, that’s different, but responding to a traditional sales or marketing email while you’re on vacation in Greece. I love the idea that everyone hold each other accountable. Again, that’s values-driven. I love that. I think that you’re playing the long game. Your company is playing the long game of really getting in front of burnout, because I think you even said it, in a short term, you might be able to play that 24/7, but at one point that just break, that falls apart, your people fall apart and it falls apart. And so, I love that, A, it’s values-driven. It’s getting well communicated, well documented. Your people are the ones that really help maintain that this actually happens, that, again, it isn’t words on a page. It isn’t something that an aspirational value. This is something you’ll do. Do you market? When I say market, that’s probably not the way I mean it, but do you talk about this on your careers page or in job descriptions for new candidates coming in?
Yeah. I mean, we’re very open about our culture, both specifically our values in our job ads and in the things that we believe. We get this feedback a lot from people who take the time to go explore the website that they can sense the values that we have and they can see how it translates through the way that we communicate and the way that we interact with people. And even throughout our hiring process, the way we interact with candidates and just the way that we approach each of them with transparency and with this openness to engage, I think it shines through.
It’s important to us as well to make sure that people see that because it also helps reinforce what we’re about and what we’re not, because I think sometimes candidates can also come in with this expectation that, “You know what, this is a cutthroat startup. I have to show them how amazing I am and how I’m willing to do anything to get here and to be part of this mission.” But in reality, for us, it’s like if you tell us that you’re willing to work night and day on a project, it’s [crosstalk 00:22:38].
It’s not going to work out. Yeah.
It doesn’t [crosstalk 00:22:40]. Yeah. It’s misaligned with our values.
That’s not what we want to reinforce on our team.
What’s fantastic about that is that is something that, especially… And I’ll speak as an American from an American perspective and an American recruiting perspective, that’s exactly how a candidate would respond typically. “I’m down. Whenever you want to work on vacation days, you want to work on federal holidays, fantastic. I’ll work on my birthday. I don’t care.” They want to prove on some level, some visceral level that I’m committed to the job. I love that y’all looking at that as a screen or a litmus test of saying, “Yeah, we don’t want you to work on your birthday. That’s actually not good for us or federal holiday or something like that. That’s actually not congruent with who we are.”
I wonder, Andrew, because you’re a global company, does it help? Does it help? Because again, you’re in 30 something different countries. Did it help because of that? Because I’m thinking about American business and especially Silicon Valley, especially Manhattan, both operate very similarly of workaholics and really doing that 24/7. So this wouldn’t be something that would traditionally come out of those areas. But did it help that you had a global community that you could pull from to then do something this bold?
I think it definitely has an influence. I mean, our company, it was built on very Scandinavian values and I think they have the highest quality, or I don’t know, balance at work. They have a high life satisfaction, things like that. You see these polls that are shared publicly. But I think what has had the biggest impact related to just our global spread is that because we approach everything with a remote-first mindset, the default is flexibility and accommodating as many possible ways to do things, because I think when you’re co-located and you’re optimizing to a specific setting and culture, it can be easier to design around that.
But in our case, it’s diversity in every sense of the word. So the more flexible you can make things, the better they work out for people because they have the freedom to adapt things to their own circumstances and their own lifestyle. That’s why even on our team, you have a lot of our engineers enjoy working, starting work in the afternoon and working later in the night. They’re able to do that because they have the flexibility to do that. While someone like me, I’m an early bird. So I’m up at 5:00 every day, and I start the day early and I end early, and I’m also able to do that. So it’s-
I think because you mentioned the future of work, I think what’s really interesting is I think there’s going to be post-pandemic if there ever is such a thing. I think companies are going to struggle with keeping that flexibility because we all were forced at gunpoint to be flexible. I think you’ve already seen in the marketplace, where people have returned to the office and mandatory office, this, that, and the other. I think companies are going to struggle. In general, I think companies are going to struggle with remaining flexible and focusing on collaboration and great work and all of all this other stuff. So I think because y’all are set up that way, and again, you’re managing on any given day on any given calls five or six different time zones. It’s hardwired then to do this, to think about flexibility. So I don’t think y’all will struggle with it like some other companies.
Last question for me is just an inspiration. I mean, I know that you mentioned the Scandinavian roots, which is always longer lives and quality of life and happiness. There’s all kinds of data and reports about that. But just was there another company or something else out in the marketplace for where you looked at and said, “Yeah, we kind of like how they did it”?
I think what’s interesting about the remote-first community is that we all dog food from each other. We’re always exploring other companies and just getting inspiration from how other teams do things and having conversations and being able to talk openly about a lot of these challenges. I think that level of openness and collective desire to see this way of working be successful lends itself well to everyone who’s invested in making better a reality.
I think to your previous point about companies that are now struggling with that reality of needing to find a more flexible way to work and because they are losing people who are now invested in working that way, I think it’s… I mean, I have tons of conversations with other HR and people ops and leaders at other companies who share those struggles. I think for them to know that there are a ton of resources out there and there are tons of other companies who are invested in this way of working as well, I think it lends itself well to collectively working towards making better reality and being able at minimum to get inspiration from other teams to help inform how you might want to approach a certain policy or an aspect of your culture within the company that is maybe outdated for a more flexible or remote setup.
Yeah. First of all, I love that because it’s a community and the community sharing resources and sharing what’s working, what’s not working, what we’re trying, all of that type of stuff, which I love. It’s kind of an open source approach to remote in general. We hadn’t talked about it, but I also think this fits a lot of millennials and Gen Z in particular, because it’s how they want to work, but not to just put it on that generation, because I think all generations want flexibility in the work and especially once they’re attuned to it and accustomed to it, they’re going to want that for the rest of their lives. But I have really appreciated our discussion today, Andrew. Thank you so much for coming on to RecruitingDaily Podcast.
Of course. Thank you for having me, William. It’s awesome to see other people in this space who are invested in these discussions and seeing work progress in the direction that it’s heading in many ways. So, thank you for shining a light on that.
100%. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.