Why are we prioritizing rest, reflection, inner work, and growth?

September 26, 2023In Liberatory LeadershipBy

At Leadership Learning Community (LLC), we like to say we’re doing “Just work in just ways.” What this means to us is continually reimagining our work and work environment to be in rigorous alignment with our organization’s values:

  • Love & Joy
  • Healing & Inner Work
  • Collaboration & Interdependence
  • Learning & Experimentation
  • Abundance & Generosity
  • Liberation & Freedom

It has been well publicized in the past few years that staff in the social good sector are experiencing burnout at an alarming rate. This experience is also confirmed for us by the past personal work experience of many LLC staff members. Furthermore, this experience is amplified for communities that have historically experienced the weight of continuous work to dismantle the many interconnected systems of oppression that have led to the deep inequity that our communities face today. Our intent with Flexible Fridays is to provide a small measure of the necessary healing, rest, and reflection for our communities and organizations focused on race equity, collective liberation, and leadership.

How we did it

In January 2023, LLC  began the initial phase of implementing a work week consisting of core working days from Monday – Thursday and a Flexible Friday. This initial phase assessed the program’s feasibility by limiting external meetings on Fridays while maintaining core working hours for five-day work weeks. During this assessment phase, LLC also continued to gather additional information and resources related to Flexible Fridays, 32-hour work weeks, and other alternative work schedules.

In May 2023, LLC made the decision to pilot a full Flexible Friday schedule beginning June 1, 2023, and with the pilot phase ending September 1, 2023. We crafted policies, protocols, an implementation plan, and internal and external stakeholder communications. Implementation consisted of the following logistical steps (among others):

  • Placed calendar holds on all staff calendars for Friday through September 1, 2023
  • Slightly expanded LLC’s established core working hours on Monday – Thursday to facilitate additional shared team availability across time zones.
  • Communicated with staff about the new policy and protocols
  • Communicated with external stakeholders through blog posts, email signature notes, and Friday email auto-replies.

As a learning community, we also try to approach all of our work externally and internally from a deep learning stance and with an evaluative mindset. To help guide our assessment of the success of the program and the staff experience, we developed the following learning questions:

  • Did the team feel like the rigor of our work was maintained? 
  • Did it feel very taxing for four days? What tips and models supported a more distributed workload throughout the week?
  • Did staff experience time for rest, growth, inner work, and reflection? In what ways?
  • Did staff actually take Fridays off for rest, growth, inner work, and reflection, or did they sign on to do Monday-Thursday spillover work? If so, how often?
  • Did learning circle leads have to do more during this time to meet deliverables?
  • How did this affect our external relationships and partners? Poll or interview a few: PossibilityLabs, consultants, advisory, or Community of Practice people. 
  • Did staff feel like there was a positive or negative effect on their ability to complete annual work plan tasks and goals? I.e., Did more line items need to be shifted to subsequent months in our work plan?

We gathered feedback from all staff through a monthly anonymous survey and a facilitated group reflection session near the end of the pilot period. What we learned through our pilot and how we’re trying to do it even better.

  • Generally, staff felt very positive about the program’s implementation, with no staff member reporting a negative experience.   Additionally, staff overall felt that the “rigor” of their work was maintained during the pilot phase, although, notably, we did not make an attempt to define for staff what constituted rigor. “Sticky” or challenging aspects centered on continued scheduling difficulty. Some things that we are doing to try to ease this as we continue the program are (1) Making 45-minute meetings the standard for our organization wherever possible, (2) trying to provide better guidance for staff on what type of work necessitates meeting vs. email or asynchronous work, and (3) Trying out more workspaces or “office hour” type meetings to try to replicate some of the fluidity and connection of an in-person workplace. 
  • Staff nearly universally signed on on Fridays, even if for a short period of focused work, to complete spillover tasks from Monday – Thursday. While they did not fully step away from work on Fridays, most staff did report a positive experience with being able to work on tasks that they might otherwise not have had time to dedicate concentrated time to and still having the time to flex out of work tasks for the bulk of the day.
  • LLC Staff unanimously reported that they did experience time for rest, growth, inner work, and reflection. They utilized this time for various activities, including rest, reading, spiritual community, childcare and parenting, family errands, movement and exercise, and social connections.
  • Externally, most staff reported that they did not experience or notice any effect on external stakeholder relations. Where there was potentially some effect, it was reported as a positive modeling of new ways of working.
  • It is important to try new things and to learn alongside peers and allies. LLC benefited from being a project of a fiscal sponsor organization that was already in the process of piloting a similar Flexible Friday program. We also reached out to other organizations in our ecosystem for their suggestions and experiences.

Why “Flexible Friday” and not a 4-day work week? (at least for now)

We’ve been asked by others and have also interrogated internally, “Why a Flexible Friday and not a 4-day workweek?”  For now, we feel like Flexible Fridays successfully further the LLC strategies of (1) creating opportunities for rest and reflection, (2) Learning by doing and incubating innovations, and (3) Supporting liberatory practitioners. We also feel like Flexible Fridays give staff agency over how they spend their time on Fridays. For example, they can choose to sign on and spend focused time on a passion project, give parents flexibility during the workweek, or better manage the real ebbs and flows of our work so that the weekend can truly be for activities outside of work.

While we continue to view Friday as a “work day,” whether that work is items from an employee’s task list or spending the time for rest, reflection, inner work, or growth, the time counts the same. This works for us because we view rest and reflection as important for overall organizational well-being as what might traditionally be viewed as work.

The questions that we are continuing to ask ourselves

Being in a constant learning stance means that we recognize that we’ll never have things exactly right, and so we’ll continue to ask ourselves things like, “How can this be in better support of our collective liberation?” We’ll also continue to learn alongside our peers and share what we are learning with the hope that our learning will help the field. 

For now, at LLC, we are continuing to learn about and dream up other alternative and innovative ways of working together. We are thinking about things like sabbatical policies, planned slow-down periods, intentional shutdowns, and more.

We continue to try new things that make our remote workplace more joyful and liberatory.