Encourage your team to take vacations and watch company productivity soar

In Europe, the summer break is sacred. There is an unwritten rule that August is holiday season and most things can wait until September. But while their European colleagues are enjoying some rest and relaxation, many US employees are still at their desks. Americans took the fewest vacation days globally in 2021, leaving an average of more than four days, or 29% of their paid time off (PTO), unused, according to Expedia. But with more than two-thirds of American workers feeling at least slightly burned out, it’s more important than ever for people to unplug from work. And it is in employers’ best interests to ensure that they do so.

WFH = Never Switch Off

With the rise of remote and hybrid work, the lines between home and work are increasingly blurring, making it difficult for people to switch off completely. Although hybrid is employees’ preferred way of working and is associated with improved well-being and work-life balance, data suggests that it can be more emotionally draining than working remotely or full-time in the office. “A predictable, consistent routine can help people manage feelings of stress and uncertainty — especially during a pandemic,” says Elora Voyles, work organization psychologist and human resource scientist at TINYpulse. “Hybrid, however, requires frequent changes to these daily habits: employees need to change things up all the time, so it’s difficult to find a routine when your schedule is always in and out of the office.”

Even when people take time off, half admit to taking their work laptops with them on vacation, and 41% often engage in video calls, making them even more jaded.

Whatever is behind this failure to unplug, it is not sustainable for either employees or companies. When employees are unable to completely switch off, they often struggle to perform at their best and are more prone to burnout.

This is a serious concern for employers, as research from Asana has found that anyone experiencing burnout in the workplace is at greater risk of having low work ethic, being less engaged, making more mistakes, and losing the company leaving.

Therefore, employers who value their employees should do everything possible to encourage them to take a relaxing break. When people are able to fully recharge, they return to the workplace with a “renewed sense of energy and purpose, which increases their productivity and drive,” says Kevin Cashman, author of The pause principle: Step back to lean forward. Also, it is far better for companies to support, develop and retain existing talent than to spend the time, money and effort hiring and training new employees.

Recognizing the importance of giving employees time to de-stress, some large employers, including LinkedIn and Hootsuite, have instituted company-wide vacations (when everyone has the same week off). Others like PwC and Grant Thornton work in the summer, giving employees a shorter work week to enjoy the better weather. However, there are other ways for companies to adopt healthy practices around paid time off.

Normalize vacation

Start communicating the benefits of using each PTO day so employees have no doubt that time off is good for their job and well-being and is valued positively by the company. Getting line managers on board helps reinforce the message and they can encourage their teams to use their full PTO allowance.

People sometimes resist taking a vacation because they dread the thought of the mountain of work they will return to. Managers can help relieve stress by organizing a stand-in for urgent tasks and helping employees prioritize their work leading up to their vacation and after they return.

Lead by example

Company founders and CEOs should not only promote the benefits of vacation, but also “demonstrate”. It’s harder to take time off with more responsibility, but this is a healthy example for employees and everyone benefits from a break. As Arianna Huffington told a CHRO who felt taking annual leave was a luxury she could no longer afford: “I told her to think of time for herself as an investment in her leadership – not a luxury . She saw results just because she made that small investment in herself. Your decision making was better. Her leadership was more insightful and creative.”

set limits

Because leaders set the standard for the rest of the organization, they should resist the urge to answer non-urgent emails or take phone calls while on vacation. You should also avoid contacting employees who are on annual leave. This increases respect for their personal time and encourages them to make full use of their break.

Limit vacation carryover

When employees can carry over vacation time or are paid for accumulated PTO, they often have less incentive to take time off. By enacting a “use it or lose it” policy or limiting the number of days employees can carry over, employers can help employees use their vacation days and take the breaks they need.

Encourage regular breaks

Of course, a summer vacation isn’t a magical solution to employee burnout, nor can it replenish employee health, happiness, and productivity year-round — but it does make a difference. Stress management expert Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D. echoes numerous studies when she says taking a break promotes clearer thinking and can improve performance at work.

In order to prolong the holiday effect and to help teams consistently look their best, it’s important to make self-care a part of your normal daily routine. That means encouraging employees to use their evenings, weekends and paid time off as a chance to let go of their stress and focus on the things that matter most. When people are rested, their work-life balance improves, they are more energetic and engaged – and your business gets better as a result.

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