Overworked: Missing Out on Vacation Time Adds to Worker Burnout

Research suggests taking time vacation off decreases job stress and prevents burnout.

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Overworked: Missing Out on Vacation Time Adds to Worker Burnout

Here's what you need to know about overworked: missing out on vacation time adds to worker burnout:

  • Employees' satisfaction quotient increases when they are encouraged to use earned vacation time.
  • Taking time away from work, whether traveling to exotic locations or staycationing at home, is critical to employee well-being.
  • A use-it-or-lose-it approach to vacation reads more like a reluctant nudge than a resounding endorsement.

Taking time away from work, whether traveling to exotic locations or staycationing at home, is critical to employee well-being. Unfortunately, research shows almost half of American workers haven’t had a vacation in years. The pandemic may have factored somewhat into limited travel time, but the typical US worker has been loathe to take time off to recharge for many years.

A recent survey found that 42% of workers haven’t taken time away from work in the past year. The stats are higher for younger workers, at 50%. For low-income workers, the number jumps to 56%.

What’s stopping them?

  • Many respondents cite the expense of taking a trip alone or with the family
  • 31% say the pressure to stay on top of their work
  • 27% say their workload is simply too heavy
  • 25% cite no paid time off or no colleagues available to cover them

When looked at as a whole, there seems to be a pattern preventing staff from taking a chance to get away.

Why vacation time off matters

Encouraging workers to take time off isn’t just beneficial for them. A Zenefits survey found that 72% of workers say taking time away from work helps them maintain work/life balance, which is critical to feeling more committed and productive at work. It’s a big plus you’re your business.

Job satisfaction is key to retaining talent. To that point, employees’ satisfaction quotient increases when they are encouraged to use earned vacation time. Data finds that 92% of employees whose company supports time off report job satisfaction.

For those whose company does not, only 59% feel the same. Research suggests taking time off decreases job stress and prevents burnout. In a market where talent replacement is difficult, a business’s effort to retain staff is the key to success.

Barriers to relaxation

Inflation isn’t helping the average worker take time away. A March survey of over 2,500 participants found that 69% were changing summer vacation plans due to economic stress. After two years of limited travel, the loss of an anticipated getaway likely added to the worker’s personal stress, as well.

In some companies, short-staffing has made it seemingly impossible for workers to take the time away they need.

Another survey found that 39% of respondents feel guilty for taking time off because of pressure from their boss or work it creates for colleagues. More than half worry taking time off will impact their job security or negatively impact their opportunities for promotion.

In some companies, short-staffing has made it seemingly impossible for workers to take the time away they need.

The mandate for employers is apparent: create a culture where vacation time is more than encouraged. This approach is required if you want engaged, retained employees.

Rejuvenation culture

Organizational culture either supports time away or discourages it. However, a neutral stance may be as damaging as a negative attitude. When you’re not actively promoting time off, potentially even requiring employees to take it, the message is clear. This is not a priority for the company. Employees may then assume their well-being is not high on your list of priorities.

On average, American workers left 9.5 vacation days unused at the end of 2021. Considering the average US worker earns 10 days per year, these numbers are staggering. In a post-pandemic world, it’s time to refocus on employee wellness, beginning with self-care time away from the workplace.

Get outa here

Proactive messaging may be required to readjust your employees’ mindsets. If workers are concerned taking time will negatively impact their colleagues or their own career, they’ll rationalize ignoring their personal health to stay on the job. When management at all levels models this is not appropriate, required, or desired by the company, you may be able to flip their mentality to a ‘me-time is good for me and my company’ belief.

Shifting the message from ‘use it or lose it’ to ‘you earned it, and we want you to take it’ is a good first step. Remind staff members their hard work all year is needed and appreciated, but so is the time they take to relax and recharge. The last few days before leaving for vacation and the first few after returning may be hectic, but the time off in between is well worth the effort. You know they’ll return refreshed and recommitted.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

Lead by example

Start with a top-down approach. Some companies tell employees time off is a use-it-or-lose-it benefit. If your employees don’t use their vacation allotment by the end of the year, it’s not carrying over to the next. While this may seem like encouragement, it really isn’t. It reads more like a reluctant nudge than a resounding endorsement.

We show staff members what’s important to us in how we model behavior. When managers don’t take time off, the message is clear to staffers: neither should you. If your managers aren’t getting the time off they need, they may hurt the team.

Burnout isn’t isolated — it radiates throughout the group. If front-line supervisors are experiencing stress and fatigue, there’s an excellent chance their staff is feeling the impact. When managers take the time they need, employees feel more comfortable doing so themselves.

Bring in reinforcements if necessary. It may be challenging to hire temporary workers to help employees feel less guilty about taking time off. Still, they can be valuable if you can find them. If not, plan on:

  • What work must be done while your employee is gone
  • Who will do it
  • How that person can get help from others to keep pace

There may be a wealth of tasks that can be set aside while an employee takes time off. Focus only on the most urgent, time-sensitive duties that must be covered while they’re gone. Remind staff members filing in for others today that their turn for vacation is coming soon.

Burnout isn’t isolated — it radiates throughout the group.

Often taking a short time to create an action plan eases the guilt and pressure. Employees know their work will be handled, and colleagues know they won’t be overwhelmed.

An entire organizational break is another option

Some organizations go further, shutting down the business for a week or two to ensure everyone has time off. In some companies, summertime is the time for closures. This allows workers with families time to plan trips well in advance with no possibility of last-minute cancellations.

In other organizations, the lull before the New Year is so slow it’s easy to lock up and let staff members unwind after the holidays.

Look at the cycles of your business. If you can find days or weeks where you’re just treading water, consider locking up and letting everyone rest. Even a long weekend can be helpful.

Turn them off

Getting separated from work is as important as getting away. Employees who work during their vacation time are not getting any benefits, probably exacerbating burnout. Shut down email and voice accounts temporarily with messages that are clear: out of the office until XYZ date: please get in touch with my colleague for assistance.

Tell them not to check their messaging systems — you can even temporarily block their login to enforce the rule.

If employees carry a work cell phone, consider confiscating it for the duration of their time off. Their ability to detach completely and focus on relaxation and well-being may be dependent on your commitment to letting them disconnect.

If coworkers who are picking up the slack are overwhelmed, make sure management is prepared to step in.

Living your company’s valuing employees statement

A responsible company vacation mindset is not just about letting (should be requiring) employees take time off. It’s about giving them the tools and resources to do so comfortably. Let vacationing staff members know the only time you want to hear from them is when they share fun, holiday, or staycation photos.

Americans are among the most productive workers in the world. It’s up to business leaders to reward that commitment with time off they’ve earned and deserve. When you allow your workers to care for themselves, they’ll take care of your company in return.

 

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