How Google’s 20% time could help mend America
Following a year where COVID abruptly forced remote work and racism and financial inequity took center stage, the non-profit sector has an opportunity to change Americans’ relationship with work. There is no way the country can address the social challenges we face without literally creating more space and time for individuals to take real time to address them. By creating time for deep learning, America’s non-profits can establish a new social compact with employees and the families and communities they live in and serve.
Two decades ago, in Google’s IPO announcement, the idea of ‘20% time’ was popularized. The leadership practice encouraged employees to spend 20% of their paid time on interesting side projects that ‘will most benefit Google.’ Innovative Google products like AdSense, Google News, and Gmail were side projects nurtured by Googlers with a drive to create and experiment.
The non-profit sector could unleash a great deal of social good by following Google’s example. Following decades of corporate executives ‘retiring’ into non-profit leadership, many non-profits are burdened with management cultures that emphasize butts in seats and maximizing the per-employee output of exempt employees. Instead of being seen as institutional social capital, most non-profit employees are considered overhead to be minimized.
As vaccinations bring American’s closer ending the acute damage of the pandemic, the physical and mental health damage inflicted by the trauma will be with us for years to come. Instead of returning to business as usual and stretching employees further, non-profit boards should be raising funds to spread work to more employees. Considering the increases in wealth by the nation’s richest Americans last year, the cash is there.
By splitting work among more people, America’s non-profits can create needed jobs. By creating a culture that asks employees to invest 20% time for self improvement, America’s non-profits can help mend the nation’s tattered social fabric. By setting an example that well cared for employees have more capacity to care, America’s non-profits can broadly impact the wellbeing of every American worker.