In early December three years ago, I was sitting in a hotel room in Mexico, on a conference call trying to convince a senior leader about an appropriate go-live date for a project I was leading. As the call moved into the second hour (after promising that it would only be 30 minutes), my spouse became irritated and left to go to the beach. I felt stressed, resentful, and ineffective. After the call, I fretted: maybe I shouldn’t have gone on vacation at all. Maybe I should have stayed home to ensure the project stayed on track. But I needed this vacation, didn’t I?
A research study conducted by Staples Advantage recently revealed that 40 percent of workers today feel burnt out, due to a wide range of factors, including pressure from managers, fear of job security, tight deadlines, and too heavy a workload. The majority of survey respondents agreed that they felt overworked, with 65 percent saying stress in the workplace negatively affects them on a personal level. In addition, HR Bartender reported that another study found that top performers are 66 percent more likely to leave if they work for a company with high burnout rates and that, in 67 percent of employees, burnout has hurt their work productivity or quality.
What’s the key to preventing this devastating drop in productivity? Encouraging your employees to take more vacation. It may seem counterintuitive, but you can’t ignore the hard data supporting this argument.
The key to success at work: Take a vacation…
The Harvard Business Review recently explained that taking time off from work does not hamper professionals’ efforts to get ahead. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Overworking ourselves doesn’t just impact our success at work – it also hurts our general well-being.
HBR referred to research that showed American adults are taking less vacation every year. In 2000, the average was about 20 days, compared to the just more than 16 days taken last year. This means that almost a week of vacation time has been shaved off Americans’ schedules over the past 15 years. HBR added that evidence shows the more vacation time a worker takes, the more success they have at work – probably because doing so translates to lower stress levels and more happiness both in and out the workplace.
… but plan ahead to reap the benefits.
HBR suggested that employees’ decreasing usage of vacation time doesn’t mean they don’t want to take a vacation, just that they are not approaching it in a way that allows them to experience and reap the benefits of doing so. Ever felt stressed out while traveling? Or overwhelmed due to a mix up in vacation plans – or a lack of them at all?
Time off from work should make workers feel rejuvenated and rested so they can come back with more energy and motivation than ever. But this isn’t possible when the time spent away from the office is just as mentally taxing or exhausting. This is why employees should be planning trips at least a month in advance, so they have enough time to properly plan a relaxing vacation.
HR professionals aren’t travel agents, and they don’t have much (OK – any) say in how workers choose to spend their time outside the office. However, there are ways employers can encourage staff to not only use the paid time-off days, but to make the most of them, such as the following:
Offer remote/flexible work options: Eliminating the commute can ease the burden on already stressed employees.
Encourage employees to take TAFW: Sometimes simply letting workers know that maintaining a healthy work/life balance is an important part of your company’s culture can be helpful. Promote the availability of vacation days, company-sponsored volunteer days, and other types of TAFW (Time Away From Work) so employees know it’s valued. Managers should also be mindful about not rewarding excessive overwork.
Assess workloads: Schedule one-to-one meetings with employees to determine whether they feel their workload is too much. Ask them when they took their last vacation. If they are due for a vacation, actively discuss how all their tasks and responsibilities will be delegated so they don’t have to worry about staying connected to the office when they are on vacation.
Utilize technology: Using human capital management software can help streamline processes and, in turn, reduce workload. It also makes it easier to submit time-off requests/approvals and to manage remote workers when necessary.
Role model: Ensure executive leaders and managers take time away from work, and celebrate their time off openly. When leaders brag about not having had a vacation for 18 months (because they feel like they are indispensable) it sends a message to employees about what the company values. Instead, leaders should champion vacation, talk about how they prepare to be away (e.g., delegation of authority, rescheduling important meetings until after the break), and take time to talk about their experience afterwards.
After all, employees are the drivers of an organizations success. Ensuring they have appropriate balance is absolutely critical.