Learning out Loud in Milwaukee, WI

Five years at Automattic: A sabbatical

Every employee earns a sabbatical at Automattic after they have five years tenure under their belt. It’s a benefit that was almost unbelievable when I started there five and a half years ago, and continued to be even as I saw team member after team member before me start and return from theirs. I think it was hard to believe because it had so few strings attached, but also in part because no other company I know of offers this kind of benefit without the promise of burnout along the way.

At five and a half years, this is also the longest I’ve ever been in a single job by about a 18 months, so some of it was intrinsic: Could I actually remain interested and engaged a job for five years? My parents both worked for the same companies far longer than five years, but companies today don’t offer the same kinds of retention incentives that they did in the past (mostly because they’re expensive). Prior to joining Automattic, it felt like my career would be marked by taking job after job in order to earn the salary I needed to contribute to my family — and that is the reality for a lot of the people who entered the job market into a recession like I did.

Automattic’s sabbatical is a real privilege more companies would consider adding to their roster of benefits. Matt Mullenweg and Lori McLeese offered some thoughts on how the sabbatical can help with retention and prevent burnout and fragility on CNBC recently. The idea is that by granting every individual a sabbatical, it forces us to prioritize sharing information and responsibility over siloing entire domains of knowledge to one individual. Every job I’ve ever had has talked about how important it is to work as though you could win the lottery tomorrow and never come back to work, but few have built in mechanisms to ensure it.

That’s all to say, I’m well aware of the privilege I have to take this sabbatical, but also plan to make the most of it. I’m also grateful to my colleagues and customers. They’ve encouraged me to keep delivering my best work, kept me engaged, curious, and in an active state of learning for the last five-and-a-half years. We’ve come a long way at VIP since I joined. I’m proud of our work together and at the same time feel a great sense of humility at the opportunity to disconnect knowing everything will continue apace without me.

As for my plans: We’re in Europe right now for our first international trip as a family. After we get home, I hope to get out to Minnesota to see friends and family, but mostly plan to take it easy. Keep up with us at the family blog: harmsboone.org to follow our travels.