As the year end approaches—bringing with it deadlines and end-of-quarter targets—your employees may feel that they’re not able to take any time off for the holidays.
Getting employees to take time off is how you can ensure they’re able to continue doing their jobs effectively and not burn out. Of course, just reminding employees to take time off is usually not enough. There needs to be a concerted effort on the part of leadership to make it clear that being busy and constantly working isn’t the expectation.
Busyness (or the perception of busyness) is often seen as a badge of honour in business. We put in long hours, take few breaks, never go on vacation, and are commended for our hard work and dedication. In fact, according to Forbes, more than half of Americans leave portions of their paid time-off (PTO) unused.
A people-based culture should actually put people first by encouraging them to take genuine time off, where they are able to truly disconnect from work. In a year that has already been extremely challenging, people may be feeling the pressure to work extra hard to make up for fewer clients or sales or less revenue for the company as a whole. However, now more than ever, it’s important to make sure that your employees are taking time off.
Consistent busyness can lead to burnout, and employees need to be reminded (and shown) that it’s not only okay to take time off, but is essential to their well-being.
The Harvard Business Review discusses how when we’re continually busy, we often don’t have the ability to complete important tasks since we “run around putting out fires all day, racing to meetings, ploughing through emails, and getting to 5 or 6 PM with the sick realization that we haven’t even started our most important work of the day”.
Managers might often be the ones who start early and stay late—whether online working from home or in the office—and never take time off. Such behaviours can signal to direct reports that time off from work is a luxury that no one can afford.
There are a number of measures you can take to ensure that employees feel just as motivated to use their PTO as they do to finish their work.
Forbes notes how vacation time should actually be viewed as an investment because “taking time off decreases stress and increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions. In fact, employees who take vacation time are more productive and higher performing than those who don’t”.
One way to encourage employees to take time off is by clearly outlining the process in your vacation policies. Some companies have a “use it or lose it policy”, making it mandatory for employees to submit their vacation times by a certain date (usually the end of each year).
You can also encourage employees to take impromptu days off, with management approval. If they have completed their projects and need the day off, it’s good for morale and future productivity to allow employees to take a personal day. This kind of flexibility can also help you retain your best employees and creates an attractive employer brand for potential job candidates.
Additionally, Business Insider notes that an important part of getting employees to take time off is in ensuring that there is no vacation shaming taking place in your company. They write “don't let anyone in the organization make anyone else feel guilty about taking time off. This starts at the top with leadership. The executive team needs to actively communicate this to department managers and let them know it won't be tolerated from them”.
Preparing for the holiday season means giving employees the resources they need to feel assured that they ‘won’t be missed’.
To allow employees to truly disconnect during the holidays, you can provide them with a few resources. For one, give them a template for out-of-office emails which includes a designated contact, e.g. “If you have any questions, please contact my manager Susan”. Very few jobs will require an emergency after-hours contact, but you can delegate this decision to the employee’s manager.
You can also encourage employees to disable push notifications for their email or messaging service on their phones. By pausing notifications temporarily, your employees won’t feel the “urge” to check messages and stay on top of communications while away.
If you have a product or service that requires 24/7 support for clients, stagger work schedules to make sure that all of your employees are getting time off and that those who are working holiday hours are shown appreciation and compensated appropriately.
Leaders should also commit to taking time off and visibly communicating vacation time. Doing so will automatically empower the rest of the organization and send a clear message that you value your employees even when they’re not at work.
There are plenty of ways to give back to your employees over the holidays, but giving them the gift of genuine time off is a gift that keeps on giving.