Why And How To Help Employees Take Better Breaks And Vacations
Growing and running a business is a daily search for small wins and competitive advantages. Technology upgrades, business process documentation and improvement, and rewards and compensation restructuring are just some of the ways a business tries to boost their bottom-line.
But have you ever considered improving your company’s breaks and vacations policy?
If not, you will want to read on! This post will show you how frequent timeouts can boost your workforce’s performance, as well as strategies for steering your employees to the right direction.
Science-Backed Benefits Of Breaks And Vacations
We instinctively know that breaks are a must to keep performing at work. But if you’re a “show me the numbers” kind of person, know that a growing body of research echoes what many already know by intuition. Let’s take a look at some of these studies:
Vacations Reduce Stress
Did you know that majority of employees in the United States feel overwhelmed and burnt out from stress? About 70% of these workers even dream of less demanding jobs.
And when employees are chronically stressed, they become highly irritable, develop sleep problems, and dull their cognitive abilities. Meanwhile, US companies lose billions of dollars per year due to stress-related productivity losses.
On the other hand, a well-planned vacation can help employees disconnect from the hurly-burly of office life and reduce their stress levels.
The keyword, of course, is well-planned.
Rushing vacation planning can lead to unpleasant surprises and mishaps (ex: lost luggage), offsetting the benefits of the time-out.
However, a vacation with a strong focus on the details, scheduled at least a month in advance, and planned with someone knowledgeable of the destination can pay dividends. These vacations allow workers to enjoy the stress-relieving perks of an extended away-time.
And They Boost Employee Happiness And Performance, Too
Well-timed and well-planned vacations do more than just help organizations avert stress-related productivity disasters.
An internal Ernst & Young study explored in the book “The Way We’re Working isn’t Working” found that:
For every 10 hours of vacation time, employees increased their year-end performance ratings by 8%! But aside from a sizeable performance boost, helping workers take frequent vacations can also improve a company’s retention rates.
Note, too, that employees returning from a vacation tend to be friendlier to their colleagues and are less prone to mistakes!
Frequent Breaks Boost Productivity
Yes, you’ve read that right. Frequent breaks are key to higher workplace productivity.
A 10-week study by researchers from Cornell University divided workers between two groups – The first one received digital reminders to take breaks, while the other didn’t. The end of the study saw the reminder group perform with 13% better accuracy than colleagues in the no-reminder group.
A more recent study at the University of Illinois put 84 study subjects through a 50-minute task and tested the participants’ memory afterward.
All of the participants suffered from performance decline after working for a long period of time – as expected. However, study subjects who took breaks came back to the task with renewed energy and purpose, bringing their performance back to where it was.
You’ve seen the proof.
Breaks and vacations are not only necessary for the health and wellbeing of your workforce. But spending time away from work also raises your staff’s productivity, happiness, and satisfaction.
On the other hand, encouraging your team to take time-outs can prove challenging. Let’s look at some strategies to convince workers to rest and recharge.
Set A Good Example
More than 50% of US employees gave up 658 million vacation days in 2013. And one of the reasons why these workers did so was because they’re scared of coming across as lazy. Some also fear being seen as replaceable.
One way to get rid of those irrational fears is to set a good example yourself. That’s what good leaders do after all.
Talking about vacations, breaks, and self-care is good. But you must support your words with actions. Show everyone that it’s ok to step away from the office and stay in a far-away destination for weeks by taking a vacation yourself.
At work, make time for some watercooler talk. Spend a few minutes walking down the rows of desks instead of holing up in your office. Doing so will not only encourage employees to relax and recharge but also increases your visibility at the workplace.
Track Work And Break Times
Old habits die hard. You’ll likely catch yourself grinding on when you need to rest instead. Taking frequent breaks may not come naturally to some of your employees. If such is the case, an ergonomic timer will help the entire team to refresh and re-energize on time.
These desktop apps track the time you spend working in front of the computer, and they will remind you if you’ve been sitting for too long.
Beyond tracking work and break times, some ergonomic timers also allow you to vary the duration of your breaks . Other apps let you adjust the alerts and their level of intrusiveness, even giving you the option of locking the screen for the duration of the break.
And the best part:
Many downloadable ergonomic timers are free!
- Eyeleo: Walks users through quick exercises for those tired eyes.
- Awareness: Notifies users with small audible reminders.
- Workrave: Works with Windows and Linux and has detailed settings options for breaks
If you’re wondering how long you should work before taking a break, let’s turn Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr’s explanation of the ultradian rhythm, from their book “The Power of Full Engagement”, for answers:
- Ultradian rhythms help to account for the ebb and flow of our energy throughout the day.
- Physiological measures such as heart rate, hormonal levels, muscle tension and brain-wave activity all increase during the first part of the cycle – and so does alertness.”
- After an hour or so, these measures start to decline. Somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes, the body begins to crave a period of rest and recovery.
If you want a simple time and task management with breaks built into it, check out the Pomodoro Method by Francesco Cirillo. The method divides work into 25-minute intervals (known as pomodoros) with 5-minute breaks in between. Every fourth pomodoro, the user must take a longer break, lasting about 25 to 30 minutes.
Plan How To Cover For Vacationing Employees
Returning to a mountain of work is another leading reason why modern workers refuse to take vacations.
When you encourage people at work to travel and unwind, have a plan for covering the workload left behind. Otherwise, the vacationing employees are likely to drown in paperwork upon their return.
Cross-training is a cost-effective way to ensure business operations aren’t crippled when someone goes on a vacation. And since the initiative supports the company’s vacation policies, workers are more likely to accept the training.
The following technical and preparatory steps are also essential:
- Plan who will cover for who
- Rerouting calls and emails to the backup employee
- Writing “out of the office” autoresponder messages
- And more
Hiring temporary employees is another option to consider. It provides you the temporary manpower needed to cover for a full-time employee – and with minimal impact on your cash flow as you only have to pay per hour.
Nathan Sharpe is the entrepreneur behind Biznas, a blog where he serves practical business advice and tips to readers. Learning and helping others learn is his passion.