In Europe, summer vacation is sacred. There is an unwritten rule that August is holiday season and most things can wait until September. But while their European counterparts enjoy rest and relaxation, many American workers are still at their desks. According to Expedia, Americans took the least amount of vacation days globally in 2021, leaving an average of more than four days or 29% of their paid time off (PTO) unused. However, with more than two-thirds of American workers feeling at least moderately burned out, it’s more important than ever that people disconnect from work. And it’s in employers’ best interest to make sure they do.
WFH = Never Turns Off
With the rise of remote and hybrid work, the lines between home life and work have become increasingly blurred, making it difficult for people to completely switch off. Despite hybrid being employees’ preferred way of working and linked to improved well-being and work-life balance, data suggests it can be more emotionally draining than fully remote or full-time office work. “A predictable and consistent routine can help people deal with feelings of stress and uncertainty—especially during a pandemic,” says Elora Voyles, an industrial-organizational psychologist and people scientist at TINYpulse. “However, hybrid requires frequent changes in those daily habits: workers have to constantly change things, so it’s hard to find a routine when your schedule is always in and out of the office.”
Even when people do take time off, half admit to bringing their work laptops on vacation, and 41% often join video calls, which leaves them even more exhausted.
Whatever is behind this failure to unplug, it is not sustainable for employees or businesses. When staff are unable to fully disengage, they often struggle to perform at their best and are more prone to burnout.
This is a serious issue for employers, with Asana research finding that anyone suffering from job burnout is at a higher risk of having low morale, being less engaged, making more mistakes and to leave the company.
That’s why employers who value their employees should go out of their way to encourage them to take a restorative 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 Pause principle: Step back to lean forward. Furthermore, it is far better for businesses to support, nurture and retain existing talent than to spend the time, cost and effort of hiring and training new blood.
Recognizing the importance of giving the workforce time to relax, some large employers, including LinkedIn and Hootsuite, have introduced company-wide vacations (where everyone is given the same week off). Others such as PwC and Grant Thornton operate on summer hours, giving employees a shorter work week to enjoy the best weather. However, there are other ways for businesses to create healthy practices around paid time off.
Start by communicating the benefits of using each PTO day so employees have no doubt that taking time off is good for their work and well-being, and is viewed positively by the business. Getting line managers on board helps reinforce the message, plus they can encourage their teams to use their full PTO allowance.
People sometimes resist vacations because they dread the thought of the mountain of work they’ll be returning to. Leaders can help alleviate stress by arranging coverage for urgent tasks and helping employees prioritize their work before their vacations and when they return.
Lead By Example
Company founders and CEOs should not only promote the virtues of vacations, but also ‘walk the talk’. With more responsibilities, it’s harder to take time off, but doing so sets a healthy example for staff, plus everyone benefits from a break. As Arianna Huffington told a CHRO who felt like taking annual leave seemed like a luxury she could no longer afford, “I told her that she should look at taking time for herself as an investment in her leadership—not a luxury. She saw results just by making that small investment in herself. Her decision-making was better. Her leadership was more empathetic and creative.”
With leaders setting the standard for the rest of the organization, they must resist the urge to respond to non-urgent emails or take vacation calls. Similarly, contacting employees who are on annual leave should be avoided. This reinforces respect for their personal time and encourages them to take full advantage of their time off.
Limit holiday rollovers
If employees can keep their vacation days or get paid for the PTO they’ve accrued, there’s often less incentive for them to take time off. By introducing a “use it or lose it” policy or limiting the number of days employees can take, employers can help people use their vacation days and take the vacations they need.
Encourage regular breaks
Of course, a summer vacation isn’t a magic solution to employee burnout, nor can it increase 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 that taking a break promotes clearer thinking and can improve performance at work.
To prolong the impact of vacations and help teams consistently perform at their best, the key is to make self-care part of business as usual. This means encouraging employees to use their evenings, weekends, and paid vacations as a chance to leave their stresses behind and focus on the things that matter most. If people are well rested, their work-life balance improves, they are more energetic and engaged – and your business will be better because of it.