Once upon a time, we all bought into the notion that everybody was “working for the weekend.”
We also bought into righteous guitar solos, mullets, and red leather pants. And while I think we can all agree that guitar solos should definitely make a comeback, we should also agree to let those other things go.
Today’s employees aren’t just clocking in from 8 – 5, Monday through Friday. They’re looking for work that’s exciting. Something with meaning and purpose. They’re seeking positions that are in sync with their values and give them room to grow, both personally and professionally. When they find it, they’re often willing to put in way more time, energy, and effort on the job— including nights and (gasp!) weekends.
But this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Over time, working non-stop will cause even the best employees to experience decreased job performance and, ironically, decreased satisfaction. If you let your team members to burn themselves out, not only will you end up with less productive employees, you’ll soon be watching them walk out the door for the next “perfect” opportunity.
And don’t blame this on your hard working employees. It’s up to leadership and management to:
- Recognize the importance of down time and the dangers of burnout
- Put systems in place so that everyone feels good about taking their much needed time off
Building a culture of work and rest
So how do you create a culture that allows— no insists— on regular unplugged time off for leaders and staff alike?
Re-think your paid time off policy – Still thinking in terms of sick time and vacation days? Throw that crap out the window. If your employees need a day off, it doesn’t matter what for. Combine your sick and vacation days into one PTO policy so everyone can take time when they need it.
Consider an open vacation policy - Do you really need to enforce a number of defined days off? As long as things aren’t falling through the cracks, let employees take as much vacation as they need. Your “work hard, play hard” types will gladly pull double duty at the office if they know they can get those 3 weeks off to hike the Swiss alps.
Set a vacation minimum – You heard me. No one should work an entire year without taking a week or two of vacation. Note: Those with undefined or unlimited vacation plans will need to pay special attention to this, because some employees will feel confused or intimidated by the lack of a structured plan. Set your minimum vacation limit— and make sure people take it.
Plan ahead – Vacation time generally requires advanced notice, scheduling, and pre-approval. But once it’s on the calendar, it can be planned around. Make sure your employees get additional team and management support to manage workloads before they leave, handle anything that comes up while they’re gone, and help them get caught up when they return.
Be supportive - Employees need to feel okay about taking time off so that they can truly relax while they’re gone. A stress-filled vacation is good for no one, and a crippling re-entry period will quickly wipe away the benefits of even the most re-energizing trip.
Involve the team – Most people are happy to help out when co-workers are gone, especially if they know that the favor will be returned when they’re out and about. Taking on a temporary task or two is a small price to pay for your own blissfully uninterrupted vacation.
Lead by example – You’ve hired great people and trained them well. Now it’s your job to trust them to get things done, whether or not you’re in close proximity. Doing so will not only relieve your own stress, it will show your team you believe in them and empower them to do great things.
Let them know you have confidence in their abilities, then prove it by encouraging them to take time off regularly, taking vacation yourself, and letting them take care of business (and each other) while you’re gone.
Hold the phones! And the emails. And the text messages.
This might be the hardest part of having your awesome team members out of the office. You’re excited about a new initiative. Or a project you’re working on. Or a big sale that came through.
Newsflash: IT CAN WAIT.
You and your employees deserve uninterrupted time away from work. But if work-related items are constantly popping up in phones, laptops, and alerts, even the most pristine sandy beach can suddenly feel like the office. And that familiar wave of workplace intensity can come rolling right on back.
Don’t let this happen to you or any of your hard working team members.
Cut the cord
Set up a no-contact rule for yourself and your team regarding the person who is out. If something comes up that can be handled in-house, don’t check in or run it by them. Just make it happen.
If there’s a situation that can’t be handled without the vacationing person,** draft an email with the details while they’re fresh in your mind. But don’t fire it off to them. You can schedule it to go out later or send it to yourself and make a note to chat with them about it after they return.
Rest assured, even the most demanding client will generally understand the language of “Your account manager is on an Italian wine tour.” You may even build rapport commiserating about how you wish you were, too.
If you build a strong culture that emphasizes work-life balance, and values your employees as more than just worker bees, you’re much more likely to attract the hard-working, fun-loving employees you desire.
And when they do come back from vacation, they’ll be way happier to see you. They’ll also be more relaxed, refreshed, energized, and motivated.
Because you gave them the gift of time.
** Warning: If you regularly run into situations that can’t be handled without any one person in your organization, you may have a bigger problem than time off. Your business needs to be able to operate under a variety of conditions, including those unexpected “What if…” scenarios. A little workforce or succession planning is probably in order.
At Q4intelligence, we work with independent agencies who believe in looking beyond insurance to provide solutions to today’s most pressing business problems-- like how to build a vacation friendly culture and avoid employee burnout. How? By transforming the relationship between brokers and HR professionals from a single annual transaction to a powerhouse of constant teamwork, communication and results.
If you’re interested in a true employee benefits partnership that will help keep your employees healthy and happy and make your company an employer of choice, let us know and we’ll introduce you to an agency in your area. If, by chance, there isn’t one in your neighborhood, no worries! We’re full of great ideas.
For more on why it's important for everyone in your organization to have down time, read Turn it Off: The Problem With Always Being On.
Photo credit: me! (While I was on vacation.)