16 ways to ensure your team members (and you!) take needed time away from work

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It’s not new for Americans to be pegged as “workaholics,” and the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have made the hustle culture even worse — AAA found that 33% of Americans’ vacation time went unused in 2020. While a portion of the 2020 total may be attributable to travel restrictions, the “new normal” of remote working is also resulting in many professionals spending a longer time working each day.

The Business Journals

Both leaders and employees receive significant physical and mental health benefits from taking much-needed time away from work — benefits that translate to better productivity and engagement among rested and recharged staff members. So how can leaders get their teams (and themselves) to confront their workaholic tendencies and take a break? Below, 16 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their best tips for persuading everyone in your organization to regularly set aside work and relax.

1. Create a culture that encourages vacations.
It’s important to communicate. Period. We all know that the research is clear: Taking vacation time improves productivity, lowers stress and leads to better mental health. Silence from the C-suite can create anxieties and assumptions about what bosses and colleagues might think about vacation time. Creating a culture that pushes employees to take vacations is key to combating burnout. – Sarah Geltz, Kendrick Law Group

2. Give each worker permission to identify that they’re fatigued.
A year before Covid, we at Saint Ursula Academy engaged a neuroscience coach. She began working with us on brain functions and how they affect our behavior, decision making and creativity. Speaking the same “brain language” allows us to recognize when time away is needed. This gives each staff member permission to identify their fatigue. Rested brains produce fresh perspectives. – Lelia Kramer, Saint Ursula Academy

3. Focus on productivity rather than hours worked.
Our culture focuses less on recording hours worked and more on taking responsibility for personal productivity. Employees can feel empowered to disconnect when their work is done. Additionally, we close our office for two weeks during the holidays and have a four-day workweek. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

4. Establish a ‘no-contact’ window.
As a leader, I abide by a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. rule: I will not email or contact my staff between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Since implementing this personal rule more than a decade ago, there have only been a few times when I’ve had to break it for emergent situations. I recognize that if I am emailing or calling, it makes the employee feel as though they should also be working. – Kelly Van Sande, Ignite Learning Academy

5. Create a relaxed policy for time off.
In many businesses, things are starting to get back to normal, and it’s only natural to want to make up for lost time. That being said, we encourage our employees to take time off. We have a pretty laid-back policy at our office for time off: You can always have the time off until you can’t. In other words, as long as their work is done and they don’t abuse it, every employee is free to come and go, just like the partners. – Brandan Davies, Roth Davies LLC

6. Hold team discussions to plan away time.
The research is very clear on the benefits of downtime, renewal and vacations. Over a four-week period, invite the team to actively discuss their feelings and potential solutions. Talk about the benefits, reprioritizing projects, redistributing work for fit and covering for one another. The leader should then respectfully insist that all team members create a plan and should celebrate those plans. – Bill Dickinson, C3 Leadership, LLC

7. Set up coordinated, flexible schedules.
We plan time away from the office. We coordinate our schedules, remain flexible and alter our schedules as needed to serve our clients, and the ability to work remotely allows us to monitor and respond to matters as necessary. Time away — even if it’s only for a few days — promotes a lifestyle balance, an appreciation for achievement and a desire to return to the office prepared to address the next challenge. – Chris Rockers, The Claims Group

8. Give employees occasional long weekends.
While Covid created an artificial construct in which no one could travel, working from home did cause people to work more. A recent quote from a colleague — “Sometimes you have to work like a dog” — rings true with us all; it especially has during Covid. However, that pace is not healthy for an individual or the organization. One way to encourage people to get away is to give them occasional long weekends. – Valerie Perlowitz, International Holding Company LLC

9. Remind employees to schedule time off.
We’ve been keeping a close eye on employee morale since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s easy for employees to burn out when working remotely because of the blurred work-home life boundaries. We’ve asked employees to schedule time off, whether it’s for a week’s vacation or just to get away in the middle of the day. We must lead by example and expect our leadership team to take time off, too. – Joseph Wynn, Seiso, LLC

10. Track PTO usage.
We have added floating holidays to our calendar to facilitate breaks for all personnel during the year. We also track PTO usage and reach out proactively to those who haven’t taken much time to ensure they’re not burning out. If their workload keeps them from pulling away, that’s an organizational issue we need to fix, not a person who’s choosing to work too much. – Dena Jalbert, Align

11. Implement a ‘use it or lose it’ policy.
I’ve found the best way to encourage the use of PTO is to set a policy of “use it or lose it.” It’s simple but effective. We also encourage — and require if needed — our team members to have used a certain percentage of their PTO by the time major milestones pop up (for example, 50% of PTO time by the end of July). – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

12. Close for extended periods around holidays.
We are instituting mandatory office closures. We are closing the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and the week of July Fourth. This way our teams can take the breaks they need to be the most productive. – David Wescott, Transblue

13. Build in daily breaks.
The old definition of a workaholic may have a different definition after this past year. Even when vacation time is going relatively unused, work-life balance can be achieved by taking regular breaks throughout the workday to enjoy a meal with loved ones or go on a walk. These habits lend to a more balanced approach to daily work and life. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

14. Recognize that you’re not ‘fully present’ when you’re burned out.
Taking time off is a complex issue for those working in a therapeutic practice. For many of us, time off means less money, and that can be a difficult trade-off. One motivating factor is the awareness that you aren’t “fully present” with your clients when you are tired and burned out. In that sense, time off can ultimately lead to stronger client relationships, and that makes better business sense. – Francesca Giordano, Veduta Consulting

15. Lead by example.
Time away rejuvenates the soul. Leaders can help their teams understand that it’s OK to take time off by taking time off themselves. Recognizing that it’s not a crisis if things get delayed by a few days (time that’s typically recoverable anyhow), as well as not asking a thousand questions of your team members while they’re away demonstrates that you have the emotional maturity to understand that motivated employees are better than burned-out ones. – Bob Karshnia, Sentient Energy

16. Trust your employees to handle things while you’re away.
I feel like I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating: If you don’t take time for yourself, neither will your employees. Make sure that people know you’ll be away from the office and won’t be checking up on them for a while. Let them know you trust them. Make clear what’s expected while you’re away, and ensure your team knows when they should break the rules to call for help. Then, help them do the same for you. – Thomas Carpe, Liquid Mercury Solutions

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