The normalization of remote work has brought about a transformation of the typical work day as we once knew it. While a virtual working environment can offer flexibility for employees, it has also brought an increase in employee burnout and a range of mental health issues. Time spent commuting, socializing with colleagues, and taking breaks has been reallocated to working longer hours. In fact, research shows remote employees are working longer, spending time in more meetings, and having to keep up with more communication channels. That’s why now more than ever, employees utilizing their allocated paid time off is not only paramount to their wellbeing, but essential for the success of the business.
“Naturally, employee burnout leads to low productivity, exhaustion, and a host of other issues that are starting to plague employees, workplaces, and companies. The impact of this only compounds when employees let their PTO time go to waste,” says Deepak “Dee” Agarwal, entrepreneur and long-time C-suite executive.
According to a study by Qualtrics, only 27 percent of U.S. employees used all of their allotted paid vacation time in 2021. Employers can counteract this trend by nurturing a culture of work-life balance where employees feel comfortable using their allotted time off, which leads to a multitude of benefits in the long run, including decreased burnout, increased productivity, and overall employee well-being.
“A tired employee is an unproductive employee. What some employers see as a loss in increased PTO time being taken, is actually a gain. Employees often return from their time-off with a refreshed perspective and increased vigor,” Dee Agarwal says. Fortunately, there are tactics that employers and industry leaders can use to encourage their employees to take time off.
Take the Lead
When employers and industry leaders themselves take time off, it sends a message to employees about the need to balance work and life, ingraining it in the culture of the company.
“There’s an old adage that is perfect for answering the question of why employers and leaders themselves need to take time off –– lead by example,” Deepak Agarwal points out.
Leading by example doesn’t start and stop with employers taking their respective vacation days. How leaders use their time off also sets the standard that employees are likely to follow. If the leader takes PTO but then works throughout their vacation, employees will feel pressured to do the same.
When speaking of employee burnout, a poor work-life balance is often a significant contributing factor. Cultivating a culture that prioritizes boundaries and balance between work and personal life is crucial to curbing employee burnout. Expecting employees to work beyond their hours, scheduling meetings or sending messages before/after work hours, or setting unrealistic expectations are all factors that contribute to a flawed work-life balance.
“If you don’t encourage your employee's work-life balance on an everyday basis, how can you expect them to feel supported taking time off to rest and recharge,” noted Deepak Agarwal.
With the rise of remote work, it’s more critical than ever for employers to establish healthy work-life balance practices. When there is no natural “start” or “stop” of the traditional work day, the line between work life and personal life begins to blur, leaving employees feeling like they’re always on the clock.
Offset Their Workload
One of the most common reasons employees have a difficult time actually taking their designated time off is the fear that they’ll return to a mountain of emails and overdue tasks that piled up. Employers can offset this by having support systems in place. For example, when an employee returns to work from their time off, encouraging management to meet with them to establish priorities for the next week, and express lenience for tasks is one way to offset their accumulated workload. Additionally, cross-training team members to be skillful in various areas of the business can help ease the pressure when an employee goes out of the office, knowing that their team is capable of handling their responsibilities during their absence.
“It’s not a shock that employees don’t want to take their time off if it ends up making their life more stressful in the long run. That’s where it's up to the employer to put systems in place that support employees as best as possible prior to their time off, and upon return”, adds Deepak Agarwal.
There are many different approaches to encouraging employees to take time off, but most of them start with leaders stepping up by taking a break themselves and prioritizing creating a culture of work-life balance throughout their organization.
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