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Why you should encourage employees to take time off and how to do it

Future of Work|Health and Benefits|Talent|Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Regina Ihrke | July 2, 2021

As workers suffer from pandemic burnout, it is important to encourage them to take time off to improve their wellbeing.

It is summer. The U.S. is reopening with limited mask requirements, and I am excited to embrace a return to normalcy, or am I? I am busier than ever, with more meetings and emails than I can manage. Work is changing to a “flexible work” approach, which means I need to think about all the things that went away for the past 15 months: commuting, work clothes and trying to get as much work done at home but at the same productivity level as in the office. Overall, I am burnt out and overwhelmed.

I am not alone. Workers across the country are facing many of the same issues even as COVID-19 remains in circulation, albeit in the background, but less of a threat thanks to vaccination campaigns. Nonetheless, the pandemic has taken its toll on employee wellbeing appearing in the form of burnout.

Making matters worse for employee wellbeing, some sectors are struggling to hire workers. As the economy reopens, there are 9 million open jobs and in certain industries they are difficult to fill, according to news reports. Additionally, 18 million Americans were furloughed in April 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the volume of work rising without a corresponding increase in new workers, the current workforce is under pressure because of limited capacity to spread the work more effectively. The result: Over 40% of the workforce feels burned out, according to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study from March.

3 key strategies

While we acknowledge that time off is imperative to employee wellbeing, how can employers encourage and support time off when their employees are so busy? There are three key strategies that employers are focusing on to prevent burnout and improve employee wellbeing by encouraging employees to take time off.

Leadership messaging: Leaders and managers who embrace the benefits of time off send an impactful message of balancing life and work. When leaders disconnect for a while, employees take notice and feel supported to take time off too, even when the work continues to pile up. Leaders who share their experience with their teams — from activities they experienced and places they explored — will convey the necessity for all employees to take time off. Additionally, having your leaders and managers check in on staff to encourage scheduling time off will support a wellbeing culture that invests in employees while at work and on vacation.

Employee listening: Develop an employee listening strategy to understand what employees need from their employer to be able to take time off and how to communicate that it is OK to take time off. Using the employee voice to develop a sincere and supportive communication campaign that encourages employees to take time off will deliver improved productivity and sustainable engagement.

Time-off initiatives: In our Emerging from the Pandemic Survey, 22% of employers added carryover limits for 2020, with 37% continuing in 2021, expecting that employees would not take their time off. As the U.S. has begun reopening, employers are analyzing time-off accruals and developing incentives strategies that include providing cash incentives to take time off, adding Fridays as a holiday or a “no meeting” day.

A holistic wellbeing and employee experience strategy that encompasses these key areas can quickly allow for employees to reset and recharge — and provide longer-term engagement and improved productivity.


Wellbeing Leader, North America

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