HR 101: The Importance of Workplace ‘Recess’

Article main image
Oct 29, 2018

The old adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” may seem like a silly childhood chant. Yet, it’s an idea that just may save today’s HR manager from one of the biggest headaches: turnover.

Giving employees and staff space to play isn’t just feel-good HR talk; it’s a business imperative. According to Project: Time Off, more than 200 million vacation days were left on the table in 2017. Furthermore, it’s estimated that the lost value of those unused benefits adds up to $62 billion.

A business environment that does not encourage play time and work-life balance is costly to both employees and the business. Within recent years, stress contributes mightily to absenteeism, unhappiness and a lack of engagement, which cumulatively costs US companies as much as $500 billion in productivity loss. Yet, a Johnson & Johnson study calculated that between 2002 and 2008 its wellness program returned $2.71 for every dollar spent. Of course, as a Rand study observed, much depends on the program and participation.

However, not only did these numbers nudge me to consider a different approach, but my own personal experience demanded a change.

Throughout the last 16 years of building a profitable marketing firm, I didn’t expect a downside to our growth and success. In the past year we saw tremendous growth, tripling revenues but quadrupling stress. I should have been thrilled, but on the inside I was crumbling.

The daily churn of meeting after meeting, late-night emails, infinitely long to-do lists combined with rising payroll expenses took a toll on me. What was once a dream became dreadful. I realized that I’d fallen for the idea that achieving financial success would bring happiness. I decided then to take a different leadership approach — one that focused on purpose and people over profits.

Interestingly enough, I found that choosing to lead with a people-focused strategy helped both my sanity, my employee’s happiness and the bottom line. It’s what I now call JOY Economics – a corporate culture shift that is a laser-focused approach to equipping people with innovative work-life integration strategies that lead to more happiness, productivity and meaning in life and work.

These were the “ABCs” I adopted to help manage stress and return balance for me and my employees:

 A – Allow employees to take breaks

Driven by 24/7 access to email and phone, it’s difficult for employees to disconnect and take a real break. Even more, many feel guilty if they don’t readily respond to emails. Trying to keep up with everyone and everything all the time is incredibly difficult to manage long-term without sacrificing quality of work. I’m proud that we are one of a handful of American companies to implement an email ban after 7 p.m. You read that correctly. Our employees get to take evenings and weekends off to spend time relaxing and reconnecting with loved ones.

B – Build in opportunities to share with others

The annual retreat shouldn’t be the only time you get a chance to hear about colleagues’ life outside of the workplace. Look for ways to incorporate opportunities for employees to connect with one another on a personal level. For example, during our staff meetings we set aside time specifically for sharing happy moments in our personal lives. By celebrating your employees’ personal passions, hobbies and milestones, you send the message that it’s okay for them to bring their whole selves to work.

C – Capture the benefits of a balanced approach

As an HR leader, communicating less work and stress may be a difficult message for staff and supervisors to believe. Highlight the tangible rewards of having a well-rested workforce. Measure outcomes, not just hours. We’ve found that by hiring the best talent and assigning them to clients whose interests, expertise and life goals align, our clients are happier and our employees are more productive.

The concept of JOY Economics can be applied to any business with these three tips. For some it may seem like a radical shift, but the rewards of increased employee satisfaction and retention make it worthwhile.