Generous Time-Off, Vacation Policies Are Leaving Workers Burned Out

Alibel needs a break.

Stress and job stress had built up so much that a doctor advised Bell, a 26-year-old public relations consultant from Leeds, England, to take a few weeks off work. Her employment contract entitles her to 14 days of sick leave, and she plans to take another two weeks off to take a break from medical advice. But when she found her manager, she was asked to take only five days off. As Bell was overwhelmed by work pressure, she complied and didn’t take all the vacation she needed. Shortening the days leading up to the holiday made things worse as Bell was busy with extra work to make sure everything was covered while she was away.

After all the pre-vacation chaos, Bell said she didn’t feel calm or healed the week she took off. “I felt like I was on high alert and anxious. I didn’t sleep and I didn’t eat. I did lose a lot of weight,” Bell told me.

Bell is not alone. For many, preparing for a vacation or vacation can be the most stressful time at work. There are projects to be completed, colleagues to keep up with the progress, and customers to rest assured. Even when you’re logged out, the ghost of an overflowing inbox and a growing to-do list can make your time less peaceful.

As worker burnout has become a more common topic during the pandemic, there is a responsibility to provide employees with better leave policies to promote a healthy work-life balance. This shift doesn’t just mean more vacations.Recently, many companies and government employer Menstrual leave has been considered for workers – allowing employees to take up to eight hours of menstrual leave per month in addition to vacation and sick leave.

While the thinking behind this shift is laudable, in many cases, furlough policies that appear to be employee-friendly don’t actually help employees work more easily. If employees are struggling to make up time around vacations, sick days, and even bereavement, it begs the question: Do these “leave” policies really work?

give employees a break

The roots of our culture of overwork and burnout go back decades. The balance between home and work life steadily improved over the 20th century as the workforce increasingly shifted from labor-intensive factory jobs to office-based white-collar jobs. But as Insider’s Aki Ito explains, things changed dramatically in the 1980s when “busy culture” — which values ​​the appearance of working longer and harder hours — took over the workplace. “The long hours suddenly became the ultimate status symbol, a form of modesty and brag that was uniquely American,” Ito wrote.

Grace Lordan, associate professor of behavioural sciences at the London School of Economics, also accurate locating The cultural change that took place in that decade—from the rise of Thatcherism to the glorification of Wall Street culture—was a pivotal moment of change.

As technology improves, work’s silent intrusion into our personal time will only get worse. The internet and ubiquitous devices have increased the pressure on employees to continue working from home or on the move. Expressionism — the idea of ​​being at work despite being sick — has become the norm.

The result is a workforce feeling exhausted and unable to get off their desks. 2018 study The American Psychological Association found that only 41% of employees said their company promoted time off, while 32% said their workload made it difficult for them to take time off. Nearly one-fifth of respondents said they avoided taking time off for fear of being seen as not engaged enough in their work.

It comes down to workplace culture

Employers have been friendlier with furloughs in recent years, trying to lure workers with more generous policies, but in many cases the promises are just showing off. Many companies won’t adjust their expectations in light of the new furlough policy, but simply expect employees to fill the same workload. If you’re sick, battling menstrual symptoms, or exhausted and need to take time off, knowing you’ll have to make up those hours elsewhere adds even more stress. For those with children or other responsibilities unable to work after regular office hours, taking time off is nearly impossible.​​​​

Newcastle University Business School professor Abigail Marks focuses on the future of work, explain This tension related to the four-day work week: “Many employers cannot suddenly reduce workloads, so employees may have to squeeze five-day workloads into four.” As with menstrual leave, four-day work week is a new policy offered by some companies. However, companies that have implemented the policy still expect the same amount of work to be done.

study Have show Even if people do take a break, the sheer volume of work they return can quickly add stress and dash any good Start with a break. According to a 2018 APA survey, nearly two-thirds of employees said the benefits of vacation were gone “within a few days.”

Giving employees a break — actually taking a break and prioritizing their well-being — requires adjusting their workload. It doesn’t make sense to give employees 30 days of vacation a year without adjusting their workloads with 30 days of work. Pim de Morree, co-founder of Corporate Rebels, a consultancy that explores how to make work more fun and fair, told me that if people don’t get enough vacation “then the problem isn’t your vacation policy — it’s stress.”

These problems are exacerbated when unexpected or sudden leave such as sick or bereavement is involved. Nikki Paraskeva, the 26-year-old assistant general manager of a London bar, was working at a clothing retailer in 2018 when a close friend died. She asked for bereavement leave to attend an out-of-town funeral, but Paraskeva was given only one day off because the company’s policy applies to immediate family members. When it came time to return to work, Paraskeva found herself unable to get in. In an email she later sent to the company, she said she “woke up hysterical” and was “working while I was grieving” heavy. Paraskeva’s manager told her she could take the next day off if she could find a replacement to take her shift, but she was placed on probation after she couldn’t find a colleague to take over.

“She said I was disciplined for ‘not showing up’ because I didn’t give her enough notice,” Paraskeva said, noting that she called her manager six hours before her shift. “She said I had no chance to get off work.” The experience eventually led Paraskeva to quit her job.

If companies don’t address their culture around furloughs, employees are often punished for trying to manage their well-being. In many cases, this has resulted in employees simply hiding their problems.

“Your organisation may have this wonderful, very flexible mental health leave policy, but if it’s a place where you can’t safely talk about the fact that you have a mental health problem, then those policies are a bit redundant,” said the UK Urban Mental Health Alliance. CEO Alison Anstead told me.

Vacation policies are part of a benefits package that employers offer to attract the best employees. But the reality is that employees often feel unable to take advantage of time off properly, are rejected, or find the job itself too stressful to take a break at their desk. The hypocrisy of furlough policies makes clear that they appear to benefit employers far more than workers themselves.

Prioritize work-life balance

Like Elle Bell, Abi Corbett started freelancing for mental health reasons. The 30-year-old production manager has been suffering from dissociative seizures since she was a teenager — a manifestation of anxiety in which her brain shuts down and her body goes into a sort of seizure state. After years of trying to balance her work and health, Corbett now works as a freelancer with a company that encourages her to invoice for the time she has to take time off due to seizures. Her manager made it clear to her that she would be considered a salaried employee. “She said, ‘You’re part of our team, so I’ll treat you like anyone else.’ This company is known to be really good at things like this. I feel very lucky because they’re a large The company, a global company, so it’s very special that they treat their employees this way,” Corbett told me.

This treatment should not be the exception. Taking time off isn’t about slack or a demonstration of an employee’s lack of work ethic – it’s a sign of a healthy work-life balance. By forcing people to step up to work before they leave and scramble when they return, companies are undercutting their supposedly generous leave policies and making workplaces worse for everyone.

Molly Lipson is a freelance writer and organiser from the UK.

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