In Montana, leading the charge in rethinking ‘vacation’


Erin Clark, USFWS

Swans over Lower Red Rock Lake.

The Onion, the spoof online news outlet, recently ran a hilarious headline that read: “Health Experts Recommend Standing Up At Desk, Leaving Office, Never Coming Back”

The reason it’s funny is that it includes a dark strain of truth. Nearly 60 percent of workers consider themselves “disengaged” from their jobs. In fact, I bet many of you might be reading this at a desk where you wish you were doing something else.

Even so, we Americans can’t break away from our desks.

In fact, Americans won’t even break the chains of work when we’re supposed to. A recent report by the BBC showed that “40 percent of U.S. workers choose not to take all of the vacation days to which they’re entitled.”

I believe that it is a worthy cause to create a work environment that adds to the team’s health and happiness. Time away from work is a key ingredient, be it an extended lunch on local trails, a long weekend backyard adventure or an epic, multi-week vision quest.

It goes beyond simply posting the trendy “unlimited vacation policy” and expecting it to be a magic engagement bullet. You’ve got to get your hands dirty. It’s hard work creating, maintaining and celebrating a porous work schedule while also staying focused on growing a successful business. It’s about building a culture around a work schedule that includes “vacation” options that make sense for each individual.

Turns out, we are lucky to have a secret weapon in this endeavor: Montana.

At Wisetail, celebrating the power of place and adventuring often are two of our core values. We are striving to build a culture where the concept of vacation isn’t bottled up into two set weeks a year—but built in to the fabric of our days, weeks and months. We couldn’t do it without Montana’s unique landscape of rivers, mountains, highways, by-ways and amazing mix of cultural centers and wide open rural communities.

Here are the top five reasons Montana is perhaps the best place on earth for a technology firm to operate:

World-class stream access. We have some of the most affordable, accessible and best fly fishing rivers, lakes and streams in the world. From the Bighorn to the Bitterroot with hundreds of spring creeks, ponds and reservoirs in between, there are more than 300 fishing access sites managed for the benefit of the public by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. That means, that no matter where you own a business in the state, chances are your people can go fishing, rafting or exploring at an excellent waterway nearby.

Mountains. Montana is home to some of the longest trails, the biggest mountains and some of the emptiest ski hills, ready, accessible and affordable for adventure. I say “emptiest” ski hills not because they aren’t some of the best, but because our population is so relatively low. You can enjoy short or nonexistent lift lines. Big wide-open spaces are truly the backyard playground for nearly any business that wants to open shop in Big Sky Country.

National Parks. Within our borders, your team can experience two of our national crown jewels—Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The two parks are home to vast ecosystems teeming with wildlife, wilderness, solitude and hundreds of miles of trails.

Cultural Centers. Easy access to diverse cultural centers is a critical ingredient for being a great place to work and live—especially in the tech industry. You might think Montana is considered off the beaten trail for the arts, but it is our unique landscapes that inspires creativity, arts, entertainment and cultural connections. Charlie Russell’s legacy lives on in the arts. Montana is home to some of the best and most vibrant music festivals in the region, including the River City Roots Festival in Missoula, Bozeman’s Sweet Pea Festival, the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs and the Magic City Blues Fest in Billings. Plus, we were recently named the most beer-friendly states in the Union while ranking near the top when it comes to craft breweries per capita.

The Last Best Place to Work Hard and Play Hard: A Strong Tradition. Generations of precedent continue to define Montanans as people who work hard and play hard. Montana copper fueled the industrial revolution, our railroads connect the heartland to the world, our farmers and ranchers put food on table around the globe, and our technology is helping to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. Because of Montana’s accessible and affordable outdoor spaces, generations of working class folks could afford to build in “vacations” in their backyards and beyond. That strong tradition of working hard while finding time to play is one of the reasons we call Montana “The Last Best Place.”

Looking back on that Onion article, we actually encourage people to stand up and walk out the door. So far, after a few laps at Peet’s Hill, an hour or two at the Bridgers or tying flies along the Madison, they always come back.

And when they do, they’re in a creative, good space that allows us to give more to the people we serve.

Missoula-native Justin Bigart is the CEO and founder of Bozeman-based Wisetail, an independent, self-funded learning management software company. Bigart is also a leader in the #IndieTech movement and founder of Wisetail Works, a community engagement program offering grants and support Montana’s social, economic and environmental causes.

Leave a Reply