Employee Vacations are Great for Business. Employee Burnout…Not so Much!

Employee Vacations are Great for Business. Employee Burnout…Not so Much!

Burnout impacts business. Vacations help alleviate burnout. These are facts. When employees are burned out, they don’t perform at their best and they won’t bring their A-game to work. When employees take “optimized” vacations during their Paid Time Off (PTO), they are more productive, healthier, happier and take less unscheduled time off. It’s a no brainer for businesses to take a laser focused approach to ensure that employees have the tools and resources necessary to take quality PTO.  As we all know, not all vacations are created equal.  At 401(play), we define “optimized” PTO as the most effective use of an employees allotted PTO benefit. To qualify as “Optimized” PTO, time off must meet the following four requirements.

  • Travel outside of the home. Long length of travel isn’t necessarily important; however, it must be at least 1-2 days and must be outside of the home.
  • Unplugged. Employee must completely unplug from work (and preferably all electronic devices) during PTO.
  • Well-planned. Travel needs to be well-planned and organized to eliminate any unnecessary stress.
  • Debt-free. Travel accommodations must be debt-free. Meaning that the cost of the vacation should not be charged on a credit card to be paid off in the future. The employee must be able to pay for travel arrangements with saved, disposable funds.

When an employee meets all four criteria listed above, they reap the greatest health benefits of their PTO and the business gains the greatest productivity results from their investment. The benefits of vacation travel are clear to anyone who has ever taken “optimized” PTO. Giving the brain a break from the stressors of work can reduce workplace pressure, increase problem-solving abilities, improve emotional intelligence, and increase feelings of satisfaction and happiness. All of this results in increased workplace productivity once the employee returns.

The Deloitte Workplace Burnout Survey indicates that “77 percent of respondents say they have experienced employee burnout at their current job, with more than half citing more than one occurrence.” This number is only getting increasingly worse. Just a few years ago (pre-pandemic) that number was around 50 percent. According to an HR Executive article, 46% of the surveyed 600 HR leaders said that “burnout accounted for up to half their churn volume”. This results in billions of dollars in lost productivity, unnecessary recruiting costs and excessive training expenses each year for businesses.

The sad part is that burnout is not a new phenomenon. The term burnout was coined in 1974 by American psychologist Hebert Freudenberger. Even though this term has been in our vernacular for decades, burnout syndrome was only just recently added as an ICD-10 code and officially recognized as a medical diagnosis by the World Health Organization. This now gives some teeth to this condition because HR professionals can leverage medical claims information to measure the impact of burnout in their organization. By doing so they can make a business case for programs and resources to counteract the effect of burnout in their employee population including the fastest way to solve the issue– through “optimized” PTO!

Current Landscape

Most employers combat burnout by providing PTO. PTO is the most desired benefit behind healthcare for employees (and one of the most expensive for businesses). Whether it’s one week or three weeks of paid time off or even an unlimited PTO bank, each employee is entitled to take time off throughout the year to refresh, recharge and relax. Unfortunately, PTO is a one-trick pony and because of that many employees are unable to travel away from their home optimizing their time away from the office. By not having “optimized” time away from work, the employees do not get to enjoy the many health benefits from taking PTO. To make matters even worse, if an employee cannot afford to optimize their PTO, they just decide to forfeit unused days increasing the chances they will eventually suffer from burnout.

Employers will also look to other resources to reduce employee stress levels and decrease burnout rates such as increasing visit limits in the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), removing copays from mental health services or even partnering with meditation apps (e.g., Calm, Headspace, etc.). These programs can be effective but are generally heavily underutilized, therefore not having the impact across the entire population that they are intended to have.

Today’s methods have been clearly ineffective in combating burnout. Providing these tools alone just isn’t enough to change employee behavior. This is where 401(play) can help. Most employers can’t even get their employees to take all their PTO during a given year, let alone ensure that their time out is “optimized” for the greatest health and well-being benefits. The same Deloitte report indicates that “One in four professionals say they never or rarely take all of their vacation days.” So, if employees aren’t using all their time, and their time out isn’t being fully “optimized” to provide the most health benefits then the employees productivity will not be at its highest upon returning to the workplace and could potentially negatively impact the organization.

Strategies that can help

For almost 50 years employers have been trying to solve employee burnout (unsuccessfully). Employers believe that just throwing more PTO at employees is the answer (e.g., unlimited time off). It’s not. Solving burnout requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses both external programs and internal culture changes that support employee’s desire to travel which is great for their mental health and well-being, potentially mitigating burnout all together. If employers want happy, healthy, dedicated employees they need to create an environment for them that empowers them to take time for themselves and their families.

  • Vacation Funding Accounts

The biggest obstacle to not taking “optimized” PTO is lack of disposable income. Allowing employees to save for their vacations through convenient payroll deductions can solve that problem. With 401(play) employees can save for their vacations as well as book their travel at deeply discounted rates on our proprietary tool. Employers can also choose to step up their game and provide employees with contributions into the plan to help them make their vacation dreams come true.

  • Promotion

Employers rarely promote the benefits of their PTO plan. This is a huge miss when it comes to highlighting the value of the employee benefits program. Since PTO plans are extremely costly for employers, they are missing the bang for the buck by not promoting it. By sponsoring programs like 401(play), employers have a reason to promote PTO, for example they can choose to highlight the monthly travel deals that are offered.

  • Positive Reinforcement

Holding leadership accountable for their employee’s taking PTO is instrumental in ensuring that employees are encouraged to take their PTO in a positive light. Sometimes employees feel afraid to ask for time off or are worried about asking permission due to work demands. In addition, set a company guideline that employees on PTO are to be completely unplugged, this will  lower employees’ tension around not being available while they are out of the office.

Employees also look to their leaders for guidance on both the amount of PTO that is appropriate as well as the  appropriate behavior while on PTO. If a leader rarely takes time off and then when time is taken the leader is constantly responding to emails, this sends a clear message to employees that taking time off is frowned upon by management.

  • Be Proactive

Managers need to pay attention to PTO usage and should review team PTO usage quarterly. Taking that extra step of having an open dialog with employees around their plans for taking PTO will begin to eliminate the stigma around asking for time off. Employees who proactively schedule time off are less inclined to use that time in unscheduled ways which in turn benefits the business. In addition, managers should encourage employees to contribute into their Vacation Funding Account and using the online planning tools to schedule quality vacations.

Managers should also work with employees to determine what is the best time of year for scheduled PTO and take that extra step and ask what can be done to ease the pain of coming back from PTO while they are out. By managers showing that they care about their employees’ workloads and reinforcing the message that it’s ok to take the time off, they’ll remove the burden of fear from employees’ shoulders.

With nearly 40 percent of employees considering leaving their jobs due to burnout, it’s the responsibility of the organizations leaders to partner with Human Resources to make certain that employees “optimize” their PTO. By doing so businesses demonstrate that the employees are valuable members of the team and that the company is invested in their happiness. By fostering a positive relationship with employees around PTO usage, the organization can reduce burnout, lower mental health claims, decrease unscheduled time off, increase productivity and mitigate turnover. By partnering with 401(play) employers can truly make a fundamental difference in their employee’s lives.

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