Explainers

Why Taking Time Off—Especially Now—Can Prevent Burnout

Detaching from working increases productivity and creativity—even if you don’t go farther than your couch

If you’ve been hoarding your vacation days in hopes of calmer times on the horizon—now’s the time to give in. With just 67 days left in 2020 (and little evidence that 2021 will be any easier), it’s important to take time off to reset, and it’s just as critical to encourage your team to do the same.

Given that we’re mostly stuck at home with few options to travel, it’s not surprising that people are taking time off at low rates: according to a July LinkedIn survey, “nearly 70% of professionals say they don’t plan to take vacation—or aren’t sure yet if they will—for the rest of the year.” But vacation has never been so needed: a recent survey showed that 75% of employees have experienced burnout this year, with 40% attributing it directly to the pandemic. For BIPOC team members, race-based traumatic stress is an added factor, impacting well-being in and outside of work that can’t be ignored.

Taking time off right now can feel scary: it may feel like you need to prove your worth to your company at a time when just having a job and steady paycheck feels like a privilege. And anyway, true restorative time feels impossible to achieve; it’s hard to “get away,” whether that’s because you have caregiving responsibilities or you struggle to unplug from the newsfeed. The good news is that even though travel may be off the table for the foreseeable future, studies are proving that the right kind of staycation can be equally beneficial to one’s mental health and recovery, even if your couch is less exciting than a beach in Maui. The key is to truly detach from work.

As a leader, you may not be able to control the factors and forces that have made 2020 a difficult year, but you can model compassionate leadership and set an example for your team. Research has consistently shown that in addition to supporting your team members’ well-being, restorative time away from work ultimately increases productivity and creativity. So to encourage your team to take time off:

  • Ruthlessly prioritize projects to decrease workloads as much as possible. We know that the shift to remote work during the pandemic has obliterated work-life balance for many. People will feel less burdened by taking time off when there’s simply less on their plates.
  • Institute organizational-wide mental health days as paid holidays. Whether one Friday a month, or a four-day weekend every other month, having a break that all team members participate in helps folks actually disconnect and recharge. (Bonus points: make Election Day a holiday so your team members can get out to vote!)
  • Clarify vacation policies. Do people have accrued days they need to use before the end of the year? Do you have an “unlimited vacation” policy that’s drastically underutilized? Now’s the time to remind people of what’s available to them, and encourage them to take advantage of it.
  • Provide staycation or child care stipends. If you had a professional development or team retreat budget for the year that you didn’t spend because of the pandemic, think about how to reinvest that money in your people.

And then model the behaviors you want your team members to follow:

  • When you take time off, show that you’re fully unplugged. This month, NOBL’s co-founder and CSO, Bud Caddell, is on sabbatical, and we’re proud to say we haven’t heard a peep from him. But before he left, he wrote out nine reasons why every leader should take extended time off.
  • Demonstrate care. It sounds simple, but encouraging your team to take time away and sharing how you value that time is so important. Reinforce the notion that they’re doing great work and that time away will be viewed positively.
  • Share your staycation or local travel plans and tips, and encourage others to do the same. Start a Slack channel on the topic, and make it a part of regular conversation.
Published October 26, 2020

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