Tell Them It’s OK to Take a Break (and Mean It!)

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Oct 3, 2019

It’s well-established that employee burnout is dangerous for employees and bad for business. Yet it’s rampant. A recent survey found 96% of millennials saying burnout affects their everyday life and that more than half of working adults between ages 23 and 38 miss work due to employee burnout.

To combat burnout, human resources teams need to work with managers and leaders to help employees shift their mindsets around work, life, and self-care. And it has to be a unified, consistent message. Unless it comes from company leadership, employees may be afraid they’ll be punished for taking care of themselves.

Our culture tells us that being a good employee means being always “on,” so we take work with us everywhere we go — even right to our bedsides! But working anywhere and everywhere, anytime and all the time, doesn’t translate to peak performance. As research shows, participating in work-related activities when you’re off-the-job has negative cognitive and emotional effects. Multitasking, whether it’s at home or at work, also takes a toll on productivity, decreasing your efficiency by 40%.

The more time spent working — or thinking about working — the faster the burnout. That’s why we need a mindset shift.

HR can take the lead, helping set expectations around work-life balance, working with managers and supervisors — and C-level executives — to avoid burnout.

Talk about it

Many well-meaning managers wait for their employees to bring problems to them, but employees might worry that they’ll be viewed as lazy if they mention feeling burned out. Add questions to your performance management processes designed to take employees’ emotional temperatures. Whether it’s with a reporting tool or in regular one-on-one meetings, open the conversation by asking how overwhelmed they’re feeling.

Train managers to respond to signs of burnout with safe, proactive conversations about slowing down and getting help. This is a simple tactic with potentially big returns. According to Gallup, employees who feel their managers are willing to listen to work-related issues are more than 60% less likely to experience burnout.

Set boundaries

To understand employees’ current mindset, it’s worth reflecting on your company values. What are the norms and expectations around when your employees should be working? What are the expectations surrounding vacation and other time off? If employees receive an email on the weekend, are they expected to reply? Perform companywide surveys to get a sense of any issues — and whether they’re systemic. Even if you don’t uncover any festering problem, you might find a disconnect between what you think is happening and what employees actually experience.

Once you’ve taken the company’s temperature, take the time to clarify what level of work is expected and find a way to communicate that broadly. Conveying clear expectations and encouraging employees to maintain boundaries around work will nip burnout in the bud: Research shows that employees are 43% less likely to feel burnout when they have some agency around when and how they complete tasks.

Arrange breaks

When you host events during work hours you prove that culture and relationship-building is part of work — therefore some of it should happen during work time. For example, consider holding a happy hour on the first Friday afternoon of every month to demonstrate that your company values taking breaks and engaging as a community.

Adding perks like occasional workday breaks, a more generous vacation policy, or a more flexible work arrangement for those who want it can be more important than a pay raise; a Glassdoor survey found that nearly 80% of employees would prefer new or added benefits or perks over increased pay.

Addressing burnout is important to your employees’ mental and physical health. But it’s also key to your company’s success. When employees are rested and have time and energy to pursue hobbies and connect with family and friends, they can bring their best selves into the office