According to nationwide newspaper and television reports, a local Minneapolis ad agency told their employees to go home for two months this summer. Further, they told them to do soulful things. Incredulous, their staff, as ours would, likely asked, “Is the business going under?” Or, “What, you’re laying us off?” “Is this like a furlough?” Or more directly: “WTF?”
The answer from the agency bosses, in so many words, was, “No, guys, we have some extra cash lying around, we’re in a cyclical lull, and we thought we’d give you all some hard-earned time off to pursue those things that make you whole” . . . or something like that. How Richard Branson-esque!
So the staff went home. They planted bushes, picked flowers, grew some kale, wrote in their journals, tried some yoga, walked–a lot, attempted a watercolor of their cockerdoodle, learned the ukulele, surveyed their bodies for odd moles, played with the kids, took samba lessons, plucked those pesky ear hairs, watched those yet-to-be-opened DVDs, attempted to read James Joyce, caught up with Uncle Howard, drank wine in the later afternoon, or pinged their neglected social media friends.
With 18 employees, making an average of $50,000 (probably low) annually, working 37.5 hours per week (probably low), and receiving 66 working days off, I calculated that the agency spent the equivalent of more than $200,000 on salaries and benefits—for not showing up.
“Far out,” says me the old hippie.
“Something smells,” says me the business owner.
I talked to some friends in the agency business who said they’d really never heard of a cyclical lull. Though some have Fridays off in the summer, few could imagine getting paid for taking two months off. So what gives?
I can only speculate:
1.) In these days of needing to do outrageous things to gain media attention, this was intended as a unique and creative PR ploy. The coverage they’ve received speaks for itself. If the underlying purpose was to position themselves as a real-as-the-day-is-long, authentic and transparent cultural revolutionary, it delivered. Will it result in garnering new business from like-minded clients? Remains to be seen.
2.) It’s entirely possible they literally had no existing business to fund the operation. No business to service—who needs staff? Keeping the lights turned off for two months may have saved a few bucks, but nothing close to a cool fifth-of-a-million bucks. The good news is they had enough of a treasure chest so as not to lay off 18 employees.
3.) The business partners are genuinely generous and funky business entrepreneurs who found a way to do something truly out of the box, non-traditional, and expensive, simply for the hell of it. And, God knows how, but they found a way to service their clients with the lights completely off.
4.) All of the above.