Jan. 10 2020 06:00 AM

Prevent employee burnout by balancing work and well-being.

As the new year rolls around so does the age-old tradition of New Year’s resolutions. While most people go through this exercise, only a small amount actually achieve their annual goals. The top resolutions include commitments to lose weight, save money and eat healthier foods. A lesser known resolution that still makes the top 5 is the commitment to spend more time with family and friends. It shouldn’t be surprising in a world with constant connectivity, longer work hours and increased pressures that there is a need to balance work with time off to spend with friends and family.

Leaders have a responsibility to set a climate in their organizations that support employee well-being and prevent burnout. A recent survey by Kronos Inc. and Future Workplace found that employee burnout was the biggest threat to employee engagement, with over 95% of human resource leaders admitting employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention. Here are some tips to help you and your organization have a better balance between work and well-being.

1. Monitor workloads

The myth that working longer hours leads to great productivity is just that! Studies across the gamut show that working more than 40 hours per week consistently isn’t more productive, but it actually reduces productivity. Researchers at Stanford University found that the total output produced during a 60-hour week was actually two-thirds of what it was when 40-hour weeks were worked. Additionally, as overtime increased, so did mistakes and oversights that take longer to fix.

The idea of a 40-hour work week may seem like a pipe dream in the green industry busy season, but there are things that can be done to make it a reality. Consider the following:

  • Evaluate your work processes. Where can you streamline and improve efficacies? Where are your weak spots? Nothing drives up a workload like poor processes and duplicate work.
  • Schedule time to plan your day and week (and encourage others to do the same). Prioritize important meetings and block out some “white space” that provides time for analysis, coaching employees and answering emails.
  • Evaluate your staffing levels. Is it time to hire additional full-time staff? What about increasing your budget for seasonal workers?
  • Build breaks into the schedule. Encourage employees to take their breaks and plan team building and social activities into the calendar.

2. Value vacations

The United States is the only industrialized county in the world with no mandatory minimum requirement for paid vacation for employees. The chart on below (courtesy of the Center for Economic and Policy Research) shows the U.S.’s dismal standing (look for the zero on the far right) versus the other 20-plus countries.

Studies have shown that taking vacation provides a good return on investment with lower stress, improved energy and increased productivity upon return.

The green industry has seasonal swings that make taking vacations in the typical summer months challenging. This shouldn’t mean that vacations are not valued. With proper planning and staffing, employee vacations can be scheduled and honored. Even a shorter getaway during the busy season can diminish stress, alleviate burnout and boost productivity.

Valuing vacation is good for the employee as well as green industry families. According to the Harvard Business Review, “A new report from Project: Time Off, which surveyed a representative sample of over 700 kids between 8 and 14 years of age, and their parents, our always-on habits are reshaping our children’s lives. Three quarters of children surveyed said their parents don’t fully disconnect from work when at home, and over 80% of kids have noticed their parents bringing work stress home with them.” Vacations not only increase job productivity but positively impact families by providing an opportunity to relax and reconnect.

Consider the following steps:

  • Analyze your employee vacation usage. Run a report to determine who is taking vacation and who isn’t. Find out from those who are not why they don’t take vacation. Find out the root cause and address the issue.
  • Encourage employees to take vacations. Create a vacation schedule, routinely talk about vacation as a given, not a privilege. Make it easy for employees to request time off and be happy when they ask for it. A master vacation schedule can help facilitate vacations during the busier months and gives a heads-up for planning.
  • Ease employees’ return to work post-vacation. Don’t make the benefits of vacation undone by a harsh return to work. Schedule a meeting to brief employees on what has happened while they were gone and provide them extra time to catch up on work missed. Don’t forget to ask about their vacation, rather than just discuss the work that needs to be done!

3. Model and promote balance

Don’t just say you value work/life balance. Model it as well! Employees will follow a leader’s actions more than their words. You can show that you value well-
being as much as work by taking these steps:

  • Don’t be available 24/7. In a world that is struggling to disconnect, take time to be “offline.” If you are constantly available to your employees, they will feel an implicit requirement to model that behavior.
  • Close the office early around holidays. Make it a policy to close early on key holidays. These hours are not typically productive and can set the right tone that time with family and friends is important.
  • Set a good example and take vacation yourself. Not only will you share in the benefits listed above, your team will feel more comfortable requesting vacation time as well.

The term “workaholic” has become part of our American lexicon. It was first coined in 1971 by minister and psychologist Wayne Oates, who described workaholism asthe compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” Since then, the workaholic has become as accepted in our offices as in our vocabulary, but it needn’t be so. With the proper awareness and practices, forward-thinking companies can balance work with well-being to great success.

Kate Kjeell is president of TalentWell, a recruiting firm that specializes in helping small and midsized businesses thrive by finding and hiring the right people. The firm’s approach can be described in three words: find, fit, flourish. She can be reached at kate@talentwellinc.com.