Burnout in the workplace has been a hot topic recently, and it’s no surprise. In 2020, 33% of time-off was left on the table in the US during the pandemic. Studies showed that the average workday lengthened through 2020 over an hour. People are working more, taking less time-off, and dealing with the litany of pressures life during a pandemic presented (and continues to).
One of the best ways to combat burnout is to take a break. Employers offer paid time-off for just that reason, and studies show that employees who use their time away from work are more productive, less stressed, and less likely to burn out. In an era when employees are working harder than ever, how do employers encourage team members to use their time-off?
Clearly define and manage policies
Employees who know the time-off benefits that are available to them are more likely to use those benefits, and clearly defined time-off policies make that information easily accessible.
There are several ways to manage time-off, from accrual to up-front to unlimited policies. Some companies have one policy to handle all types of time-off, some choose to break time-off into different policies like vacation, sick, and bereavement time. Because there’s not a standard way of managing time-off across the board, clearly defining policies is important. The less confusion, the more likely employees use their time-off regularly.
Do you have clearly defined policies, but they are managed on a spreadsheet and you rely on email for requests (that go unanswered or get lost)? One big problem small companies have is that managing time off policies in a spreadsheet is a hassle and inaccurate. If this sounds like your company, consider using a time-off management software that will allow employees to look into the future to be able to plan their time-off accordingly. Employees can easily see all of the policies available to them and make time-off requests that are trackable. Systems like KinHR store historical policy information so there’s never a question of how much time off is available to an employee from year to year.
Set time-off minimums
Requiring a minimum time that employees are expected to be out of the office sets a tone that 1. it’s OK to take time off, and 2. it is anticipated by your employer and team.
There are a few ways to consider minimums in a time-off policy.
- Require one (or more) consecutive 5-day break per year.
- Set a minimum amount of time-off in your policy, like 20 days. Allow employees to take more time if needed, but require they use at least all 20 days in a year.
- Require employees use a certain number of days per quarter.
Of course, there are exceptions to consider. If an employee has a life event (like a wedding or a big vacation) planned, they may need to save their time-off for those events.
Setting minimum time-off expectations can help combat “vacation shaming” (yes, that’s a thing!), and remove the guilt that some employees feel being out of the office.
Set an example
The best way to encourage your employees to take a break is to take one yourself. You will see the benefits first hand, and be able to encourage employees to do the same because of your own experience.
Being on vacation doesn’t mean that you’re not readily available for meetings but will check email and answer messages. Trust that your employees can handle business for a few days without your supervision and totally disconnect. It might even help you see skills in your employees that have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Another consideration that some companies have made is to close the office entirely for some length of time throughout the year. Many companies have decided to close for a week during the summer as a way to get employees out of the office with no pressure of work. Others close on Fridays during some (or all) of the year (making a case for a 4-day workweek) to help get employees more free time.
Here at Kin, we close the office between Christmas Eve and the new year, giving our employees a break at the end of each year during a typically busy time in life. We don’t require that employees use their set vacation time for this week. Setting the example that time away from work is expected (or required) encourages employees to use their own time-off even when it’s not dictated by leadership.
While we are still very much in a pandemic, there are hints of “normal” life resuming. Like most companies, we at Kin found that time-off was underutilized last year with many of our employees taking a lot of time off in the last quarter to use up their benefits. In 2021, we’ve seen an increase in time-off usage overall especially over the last few months (which is a good thing!). Employees are taking time off for vacations, time to themselves, and reuniting with family members and friends.
We have implemented required minimums: at least one 5-day span of time-off per year. We also check on time-off usage each quarter, and remind team members that it’s important to take a break if we notice they haven’t been away from work for a long time.
One opportunity that we’ve seen as a company, especially lately, is better planning for absences farther in advance. It’s important, especially in a small business, that there is coverage for those that will be out of office and that work is still able to move forward without one or two players. It’s a work in progress, and one that KinHR’s time-off calendar is helping us solve.
Encouraging everyone in your company to use their time-off benefits curbs burnout, increases productivity, and helps employees feel valued. Finding ways to encourage employees to take some time out of the office may take some creative thinking and changing your current policies and procedures, but in turn will result in a happier and healthier workplace. If you have questions about managing your time-off policies, reach out to us— we’re happy to discuss.