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Flexibility | Part 1: How to design a time-off policy that doesn’t suck

Talent gets worn out from use. Inspiration is everything.
~ Hayao Miyazaki, animator 🧔🏼

Note: This is the first in a three-part series on how to build an inclusive, attractive flexibility offering. Part 1 covers flexibility on when you work by designing a really solid time-off framework. Part 2 covers flexibility in how you work, part 3 covers where you work from.

Flexibility. So hot right now. Companies (esp. startups) get flexified left and right, everyone is scrambling to adjust their workplaces to some sort of hybrid model to avoid the much-feared Great Resignation this summer.

You know the debate. It also misses the point. What you offer and expect from your team must be based on your principles as an organisation, or why your offer/expect it. For example, our principles at Juro are pretty simple:

  1. Hire great people passionate about the product or the mark they can make on it. We want missionaries, not mercenaries.
  2. Judge people on results. We care about outcomes, not output.
  3. Judge people on how they improve themselves and others. Our four values are the core for how we make decisions and each other better.

Those principles have implications for the work environment we build, e.g.:

  • Let people work wherever they want: at the office, at home, near home, on the beach, whatever.
  • Buy office hardware that makes hybrid meetings easier.
  • Make booking time off trust-based. Make using budgets trust-based.
  • Document all meetings in Notion.
  • Fund a good home set-up for everyone. Like, an actual good set-up.

Let’s dig deeper into making time off great.

But first, a disclaimer: If you aren’t clear on what your principles are as an organisation, find them first. If you don’t, you might end up hurting your revenue by putting processes in place that (a) feel thoughtless (or copy-pasted from other orgs), (b) hurt your revenue and (c) at worst, make your people leave. Everything I discuss below is based on our principles.

The problem: Flexibility in startups is a sham

Our principles make it clear that we want as little barriers as possible to enable people to do meaningful work sustainably well. Flexibility is nothing more than removing barriers and offering choice. That includes choice in:

  • ⏳ When you work (e.g. time off, flexible hours)
  • 🌟 How you work (e.g. prioritization, fewer meetings, deep work time)
  • 🏡 Where you work (e.g. at an office, at home, near home)

This part deals with when you work. What works for us might work differently for you—if you’re a construction business or you have lots of timed staff (rather than knowledge workers), what flexibility you can offer will surely differ. But if your principles lean toward flexibility, that doesn’t mean you can’t offer anything at all.

At Juro, we have no core or fixed hours. Most startups don’t. But while that looks like flexibility, in reality it often means long hours, poor meetings hygiene and working on weekends. The implicit arrangement is “We give you freedom, you give us everything you got.” That’s not choice—that’s psychological trickery. And it’s this twisted logic that gives startup culture a bad rep.

Living up to our principles in what we offer meant fixing the root problem. It’s true that taking time off feels difficult. Common reasons we hear are:

  • Sensing responsibility. You don’t want to shovel workload onto your team.
  • Showing loyalty. A small company depends on you more than a large one.
  • Hitting your targets. Sometimes it’s like there aren’t enough hours in a day.

Sometimes there just isn’t someone else to do the work, and you do shoulder added responsibility—it’s why many join a startup in the first place—, and there really aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes. Unlimited holidays do not fix this issue, they make it worse (same trickery as above).

It’s no good to anyone if talent gets worn out from overuse. Meaningful work is tough if it doesn’t let us work sustainably. Our principles show us why we build our company for flexibility—now, when it comes to how to build it into time off, start from your values instead of looking to what others offer.

Designing better time off: Start from values

It’s fine to hand over tasks — we’re a team, we help each other. It’s not fine to hand over tasks haphazardly or without warning. Our aim is to square choice with responsibility — we don’t dictate your time but we expect you to know how to handle your own as well.

That’s why our axioms for time off at Juro stem from our core values:

1️. Choice trumps restrictions (#KeepItSimple).

We’re not about to tell you how many half-days of medical appointments you can take. Everyone’s got different things going on, and we respect that.

2. Common sense trumps hard rules (#BeMoreHuman).

We know that it’s hard to plan time off sometimes. Giving 2 weeks’ notice is not always realistic (or necessary). More important than a hard rule is that we enable you to plan ahead and genuinely disconnect. Your team will thank you, you go offline less stressed, and you return without having to play catch-up.

3. Inclusivity trumps standardisation (#LoveTheDetails).

Time off is often vague. It’s not entirely clear what a certain policy can be used for. Rather than circumventing this by saying “sick leave is for when you’re sick”, we think about what possibilities may arise for different team members.

4. Monitor to improve, not to control (#TrustAndDeliver).

Specifying the type of time off you take helps your manager understand the reason behind the leave without having to ask. Likewise, we encourage all Jurors to always have time off booked at some point in the future and to have a regular discussion about taking time off (e.g. as part of weekly 1:1s, where it’s part of our template together with other mental wellbeing items — we talk about mental health this much for a reason!).

Now comes the good part: baking the how into the what.

Inclusive time-off types at Juro

When booking time off on our HR system, Jurors have a choice of 7 policy buckets. All are unlimited (#TrustAndDeliver) except for 🌴 Holiday, which is set at 25 days (for now):

🌴 Holiday

  • The classic. Use this for holidays, whether they’re to somewhere else or staycations.
  • We monitor time off across the company as a KPI for wellbeing—our aim is that each cycle the the team takes min. 80% of holidays.

😷 Sick

  • Use this for when you’re feeling under the weather. Drink lots of fluids!
  • Period complications are a thing and yes, you should allow yourself to book a sick day for it. Nobody expects you to work with cramps or a splitting headache — no matter the cause.

🕯️ Bereavement

  • We sincerely hope you don’t have to use this. This is for exceptional circumstances such as the death or terminal illness of a loved one.
  • Yes, this includes pregnancy loss and the death of a pet. Love is love. 💞

🏥 Medical appointment

  • Use this for, you guessed it, medical appointments — routine, check-up, or otherwise.
  • We’re working on expanding our health insurance offering to encourage you to take your recommended check-ups at no cost to you.

🌱 Wellbeing

  • Also known as ‘duvet day’, we recognize that you sometimes need to take an afternoon, a day or two off—not to go on a vacation but to simply recharge your body and mind. That’s what this bucket is for.

👶 Parental leave

💬 Other

  • For anything that doesn’t fit the above.
  • 👾 Alien abduction? 🌋 Volcanic eruption? 🧪 Scientific deduction? Who knows what life brings.

Now that we defined the why (org principles), the how (axioms based on values) and the what (inclusive time-off types), let’s close the loop by embedding this into the business with positive feedback loops and measuring ROI.

Closing the loop: drive adoption, measure, iterate

The most well-thought-out policy is useless if it doesn’t see adoption. Just like the best product is doomed to fail if nobody uses it. No product team would dream of releasing something relying on a (product) marketing function to drive uptake, tracking results and iterating from there.

Drive adoption with positive feedback loops

To drive adoption, think about regular touchpoints with your team — do you use Slack? Do you have regular 1:1s? Socials? Any of these can be used to encourage people to use the system you built. At Juro, we:

  • Use the Slack integration of our HR system (HiBob) to make it (a) visible for people to see who’s out and what bucket they’re using, and (b) remove friction by letting them book time off within Slack without having to log into yet another tool.
  • Use our 1:1 templates to bring time off front of mind. The first agenda item is always “your next time off is booked for [X]”. We set the expectation that you should always have something booked—even if 2 months away.
  • Use our social committee to reward people with extra time off combined with other goodies. For Valentine’s Day, we gave people another half-day off using a separate “❤️” bucket on HiBob + £40 budget to spend on dinner with a loved one. We did a similar thing for 🌸 Hanami.
  • Use our all-hands to show how we’re tracking against our 80% time off target in regular intervals. We also break this down into a team-level leaderboard to visualise how much their team takes vs others.
  • Use our quarterly reviews to plan targets for the next 3 months with min. 1 week off in mind. Encouraging time off is no use if targets are unachievable. More on this in part 2 of this series.

Measure ROI with data from your HR system or PEO

If you’re sitting on the board or in the C-suite, you’ll care less about how much time off is taken and more about how this impacts growth. Has following your principles taken you to a more desirable outcome (e.g. increased growth) 1 year onward?

We #KeepItSimple by exporting time-off data from the system we use to track it and mapping it against other performance metrics we have in the business (OKRs, revenue growth, personal performance scores).

What we’ve seen so far is a positive correlation per team on the amount of holidays taken and targets achieved, as long as the amount is 60% or more. We’re a small team so going forward we want to analyse more granular connections with the various buckets we have.

Want to look inside Juro and see for yourself?

Our handbook is public—we’re quite proud of it. Have a look at our time-off section and see what guidelines we offer on taking time out. You might also want to check out our various templates for 1:1s, performance reviews etc.

Next up, look forward to Part 2: Make meaningful work sustainable. Until then, sign up to our quarterly Life at Juro newsletter to stay in the loop on what’s happening inside Juro, new openings and great articles from around the web like this one.

(And if you’re thinking ‘not another newsletter’, see our latest issue and decide for yourself if you want that in your inbox each quarter.)

Profile picture of the author, flashing the camera his best totally-not-pressured smile.

Originally from a recruiting background, Thomas spent the last five years in B2B SaaS companies across Germany, Japan, France and the UK.

He’s now Head of People & Talent at Juro — a 40-people contract automation platform on a mission to make contracts more human — where he is building first-class People & Talent functions with the goal to create unrivalled candidate and employee experiences.

Find him on LinkedIn.