There are a lot of perks to my job. First and foremost, I’m surrounded by a team of truly talented people who all take great pride in what they do. We get to create things from scratch almost every single day and we get to be part of a trade that still makes things by hand, a community on the verge of extinction. We get to support our local community while sourcing most of our garments from right here in America. Clubs, bands, schools, teams, fundraisers, and start-ups all come to us when they want truly creative design on high quality apparel. We have freedom not only creatively and with our schedules, but in what we say and do, think and feel, and even wear to work. There is no dress code, but that doesn’t mean we wear our underwear outside of our pants and we don’t have to listen to Lite 104.1 but that doesn’t mean we listen to Lazer 103.3 either.
Instead of casual Fridays, we occasionally have Formal Fridays or Kenny G Fridays where all we play is Kenny G (until everyone runs out of song vetos). We almost always have beer in our fridge and are free to drink it whenever we want. This doesn’t mean we hammer a 6-pack before noon and pass out on the lawn, it just means we keep some suds in our fridge knowing that someone might encounter the need to have a cold one in the middle of the afternoon. Instead of fostering irresponsibility and the desire to punch out at 4:59 to catch the tail end of some lousy happy hour, it encourages us to stay in the shop and enjoy overtime with our co-workers.
When we advertise for an internship, even a barely paid one, we don’t have just 3 or 4 applicants. We get almost 50 eager responses. That’s 5 times more people than our actual workforce. 50 kids ready to challenge themselves and work their hands to the bone for meager monetary compensation and the chance of a full time gig. We’re honored by this. We realize we have created an environment where people want to work and that’s the sole reason our turnover rate is so low. It could be all the fumes we’re inhaling, but people don’t mind coming in to work at 8/7 every day. Sure, some days we’d rather be snowboarding or at the movies, but for the most part a job that’s akin to all-day-art-class is hard to beat.
Of course with this power, comes great responsibility, as they say. We must be willing to respect and trust each other and work hard when necessary. It requires us to pull our own weight and at times the weight of others. This is how it should work.
And so far, it has.
I just returned from a 4 week paid sabbatical. I planned for myself a 5,000 mile roadtrip through the West, a drive I’ve always wanted to make. I hoped to get out of town and find some new inspiration, visit old friends, peer off into distant landscapes and meet new people along the way. Photography has long been a passion of mine, but I don’t have the time to indulge it fully. So I went to take pictures and see how others spent their days and lived their lives. I took thousands of images, I read books, wrote and played music with strangers. A lot of this you can find on the blog my fellow traveler, Carla, and I built to document our trip: www.reallykindofamazing.com
Countless other ideas, books and projects have spun off as a result of this extended time off. I look forward to pursuing all of them. I returned home and to work feeling more refreshed than ever. I left with the overwhelming need to get away and returned with the unmistakable desire to come home. I’m lucky. Really kindof amazingly lucky. I understand this. I wrapped up my jobs as best I could before I left and turned things over to the guys in the print department. They handled their current workloads as well as mine and I’m grateful for that. Their thanks will be returned to them during their months off.
We asked ourselves, “who else out there operates like us?” and “couldn’t this slowly spark a movement?” “what if more companies in America started doing this for their employees?” What if companies that experience slower months, especially in the winter, negotiated a semi-paid sabbatical and enjoyed lower overheads? What if they freed up space for a temporary intern to get their foot in the door? What if they invested in the long-term benefits of happy and healthy employees rather than the short-term ones? What if companies treated their adult employees like adults? That is, adults with other interests and passions beyond their love for balancing spreadsheets? It’s lofty, we know. But take it from us, it’s feasible and more importantly, it’s necessary. Bring it up in your next board meeting – we dare you.
A company not far from here in Chicago IL, has a benefits package that would make a Western European jealous. Red Frog Events rewards their hard-working employees with unlimited vacation days, one work-from-home-day per week, and a paid 4-week vacation (guest included) to another country, in addition to the outstanding package that already includes health benefits, 401k and birthday massages. And nobody in their industry told them they had to do that. No parent company prescribed to them their corporate culture. We, like them, decided that in order to get the most out of our employees when they are at work, we must make arrangements to manage when they’re not.
That to me is the mark of a strong and healthy company and the only kind of company that will ever employ me and my talents.
“the CAPITALS” postcard series from my roadtrip