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

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

By Regina Ihrke | May 24, 2022

The world is changing on a daily basis, and that’s leading to new – rather than fewer – stressors. It’s important to continue highlighting the value of time off.

It seems like for the past two years everyone around the world has taken a new mental, physical, financial, social or emotional hit on an almost weekly basis. It started with a global pandemic, then introduced increasingly volatile geopolitical, climate, inflationary and social issues. And employers have been in the thick of it.

Organizations have had to respond to everything from demands for a public position on a variety of issues to figuring out how to meet the needs of a workforce that is feeling so much stress, it’s transitioned to burnout.

Identified as severe stress that goes beyond feelings of simple fatigue, the cost of burnout on employees is high, both personally and professionally. For employers, burnout-related risks to the workforce and productivity are real. In fact, burnout and mental health issues are a primary concern for employers globally, according to WTW’s 2021 Global Emerging Trends survey.

Making matters worse for employee wellbeing, some sectors are struggling to hire workers. Currently, there are 11 million open jobs in the U.S., and some industries and roles are having a harder time filling those roles than others. The result: eroded wellbeing. Social and financial wellbeing has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic, according to WTW’s most recent Global Benefits Attitude Survey. Additionally, high-risk employees – those who score poorly across all dimensions of wellbeing – are seeing a continued deterioration of their overall wellbeing, reporting:

  • 3 times lower engagement
  • 10 more missed workdays per year
  • 2 times likelier to feel burned out from their work

With the volume of work rising without a corresponding increase in new workers, many Americans are leaving vacation time on the table: The average unused paid time off in 2021 was 4.6 days. In 2020, American workers left an average of 33% or 5.6 days of paid time off on the table, according to the U.S. Travel Association. In turn, many companies are reviewing their paid time off leave programs and policies.

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.

Time-off initiatives: Employers are looking for ways to deliver enhanced time-off policies that differentiate the organization to prospective employees as well as supportive of current employees’ overall wellbeing. In our Emerging from the Pandemic Survey, 22% of employers introduced carryover limits in 2020, with 37% continued that practice in 2021. All of this was in expectation of employees not taking their time off.

As employers increasingly have seen the importance of addressing wellbeing issues, they have started analyzing time-off accruals and developing incentives to support taking time off (e.g., cash incentives, mental health days, caregiver leaves, additional incentives for taking consecutive days off).

Employee listening: Develop an employee listening strategy to understand what employees need in order to take time off. Additionally, use what you learn to develop a sincere and supportive communication campaign that encourages employees to take time off. By feeling heard and by employers taking action, your workforce will deliver improved productivity and you will build sustainable engagement.

Leadership messaging: Here, the message is simple: Lead by example and demonstrate that your mental, physical, emotional and social health is a priority for you. 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.

Leaders and managers who embrace the benefits of time off send a powerful message about finding a balance between life and work. When leaders disconnect, employees notice and feel supported to take their own time off too – even if work continues to pile up. Additionally, having your leaders and managers check in on staff to encourage taking time off and educating employees about personal and protected time will support a wellbeing culture that invests in employees while at work and away.

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, improved productivity and, perhaps most important, higher levels of employee wellbeing.

Author

Senior Director, Health, Equity & Wellbeing Leader – North America

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