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time off

Why Employers Should Encourage Time Off

Time off is one of the most highly-sought after benefits. Companies trying to attract and retain talent often tout benefits such as “flexible time off” or even “unlimited time off”. Time off is not only a perk for employees, but a necessity for productivity and employee mental health. Unfortunately, nearly half of workers don’t actually use all the time off available to them.

Should this be a concern for employers? Absolutely. Not only can encouraging employees to take advantage of their time off boost productivity, but it shows employees their employers care about them. Burnout is a real problem affecting far too many employees. Time off helps to prevent burnout and helps the company succeed. With pressure for employees to show dedication to work, it’s up to the employer to encourage employees to take advantage of their breaks and time off. 

Employee Burnout

A natural consequence of overworking is burnout. When employees dedicate themselves to working to the point where they will not take a break, they eventually reach a point where they cannot work at all. This sort of mental exhaustion is unhealthy for workers and creates an unhealthy work environment. In fact, SHRM reports the WHO estimated 745,000 people died in 2016 from heart disease and stroke related to working long hours.

Breaks are essential, and frequent small breaks are more valuable than infrequent long breaks. Taking the summer off every year may be a good way to recharge, but it really doesn’t prevent burnout during the rest of the year. Instead, employees should be encouraged to take regular breaks throughout the year. 

The podcast Work Life with Adam Grant shares, “The frequency of vacations is more important than the duration. A number of studies have shown that taking a 2-week vacation isn’t any more restorative than going away for one week. So if you want to reduce stress and boost well-being, instead of one long summer holiday, you’re probably better off scheduling a few separate weeklong vacations.” This reflects a similar idea shared by Laura Vanderkam. She suggests happiness depends more on frequency than intensity. Something good three times a week will make someone happier than something mind blowing three times a year. 

Unused Time off

Nearly half of US employees leave unused time off on the table year after year. Pew Research reports most of the employees who do not use their time off are concerned about falling behind at work, burdening their coworkers, or losing their jobs. But time off is essential for employees to effectively contribute to a team and prevent burnout.

Many companies are trying to combat burnout by offering time off, but employees are not taking advantage of it. In fact, companies that offer unlimited time off have actually found employees take less time off than if they had an allotment. Without traditional limits, employees are hesitant to take time off at all. Many are worried they’ll take more time than their peers and appear lazy or undedicated. According to US Travel, employees in 2018 left 768 million vacation days unused. This is equivalent to $65.5 billion in lost benefits. Unused time off costs companies money and employees their health. 

Benefits of Time Off

The benefits employees receive by taking time off may seem pretty obvious. Their mental health improves, they develop a better work-life balance, and so on. But the resulting benefits for the company providing the time off are notable as well. Retention rates increase when employees have improved mental health. Burnout causes employees to leave their jobs either due to health issues or to escape the stress. 

But frequent breaks from work help to alleviate that stress before it builds to an unmanageable level. This allows employees to remain at their jobs long term. Additionally, when employees return from time off, they perform at a higher level. SHRM states, “Research also finds that workers at all levels benefit by taking time away from their jobs. They often become more engaged and productive when they return, prompting more companies to encourage employees to embrace vacations.”

With adequate time off for employees, productivity increases not only on the individual level, but on the team level as well. An article by Be Applied states, “It is important for organizations to not be dependent on any single person. Business continuity is of supreme importance. All the cogs in the machine need to be working seamlessly despite one cog being away for a while. Vacations can be a very important opportunity to promote cross-functionality. When you delegate to others, you are forced to share your knowledge with colleagues, and they grow in your absence.”

Encourage Time Off

There are several ways employers can encourage their employees to use their time off, not least of which is to lead by example. Many executives are guilty themselves of not using time off, and they are not an exception to burnout. Employers should use their time off and encourage employees to do the same. Some companies have been known to require time off, even going as far as disciplining employees who engage in work during their time off by docking pay for that period. 

One of the top reasons employees don’t take time off is that they are worried about burdening their coworkers. Employers can combat this by establishing protocols for when employees are away. If there are systems in place to handle work during employees’ absences, it helps to remove the hesitation to take time off.

Conclusion

It’s not enough just to offer time off anymore. It’s come to the point where employers need to encourage their employees to take advantage of it so both can benefit. Too many workers, desperate for a break, refuse to take it. But with a little encouragement, employers can push employees to step away, recharge, and come back fresh. Good employers offer time off, but great employers make sure their employees use it.

Find out how 101 Financial’s Workplace Wellness program helps reduce employee burnout.