Is Adopting Flexible Paid Time Off the Best Way to Combat Burnout?

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HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

When burnout starts to become a real threat to your workforce and the productivity of your business, is flexible paid time off a solution you should consider?

Article 4 Minutes
Is Adopting Flexible Paid Time Off the Best Way to Combat Burnout?

Employee burnout is a risk that every business should be aware of, particularly during times of high stress and pressure - for example, when a company is facing serious dangers or dealing with seismic changes in its industry.

The challenges many organizations have faced since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020 have made burnout and related workforce health issues a particular concern for many HR departments.

If this is the case, it's important to consider potential solutions that could mitigate this threat to your employees and the organization as a whole. One possible approach that could deliver positive results is adopting a flexible paid time off policy.

The threat of burnout in the workplace

Employee burnout is a very real danger, and research suggests it’s risen up the list of challenges facing employers and workers in recent years.

Indeed surveyed 1,500 people across the US for its Employee Burnout Report and found that:

  • More than half (52%) of respondents said they were burned out
  • Two-thirds (67%) said these feelings had worsened over the course of the pandemic
  • Millennials (59%) and Gen Z workers (58%) were the most likely to report burnout
  • More than a quarter (27%) of all employees said they were unable to unplug from work

Recent research by Gallup also highlighted the impact of burnout on the workforce, and not just as a result of COVID-19. More than three-quarters (76%) of participants in the study said they experienced on-the-job burnout at least sometimes. More than one in four (28%) said they felt burned out "very often" or "always" at work.

If you're unable to effectively monitor and manage this problem within the business, you're likely to witness a range of negative repercussions, including:

Therefore, it's crucial to develop a strategy and identify solutions that could help you combat burnout.

Is flexible paid time off an effective solution to burnout?

For people to feel mentally and physically well enough to do their jobs to a high standard, they must be able to rest and take occasional sustained breaks from work.

This is why your paid time off policy should be at the heart of your efforts to combat burnout. Used in the right way, it can be a highly effective tool to ensure your people are able to switch off and unwind, so when they do come back to work, they're ready to reach their full potential.

However, while people clearly need time off, research has shown they're not taking it. One way to address or prevent this problem is by making your paid time off arrangements as flexible as possible.

There are various policy approaches you could consider, such as:

  • Unlimited paid time off: This policy has been embraced by a number of highly successful businesses, but relies on careful management and a culture of mutual trust within the company.
  • Mandatory and minimum time off: Introducing a mandatory requirement for employees to take off a certain number of days each year can prove effective, as long as you can answer questions around how time off is booked and how the policy will be enforced.
  • Incentivized time off: If you're serious about encouraging workers to take time off, you could consider providing a financial incentive in the form of a vacation stipend.
  • Rollovers: There are occasions when it might not be convenient or worthwhile for an employee to use all of their allocated time off. In these cases, allowing people to roll over a certain number of days into the next quarter or year can encourage them to take time off when it really works for them. It also shows that you're willing to be flexible in line with the needs of your workforce.

There are many other elements involved in the mission to combat burnout, including fair and responsive management. Gallup identified five key factors that correlate closely with employee burnout, all of which are directly linked to manager behavior:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Unclear communication from managers
  4. Lack of manager support
  5. Unreasonable time pressures

If you can find a balance of management strategies, communication methods and HR policies that make sense for the business and your employees, you'll be in a strong position to banish burnout for good.

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