Use Vacation Prescription to Reduce the Costs of Employee Burnout

Somehow, employee burnout has become synonymous with the hard-working spirit of Americans. The image of the coffee-chugging, bleary-eyed employee running around trying to make meetings and catch up on work has become far too common. Burnout has traditionally been viewed as an individual’s problem,

4th Mar 2019
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The Growing Problem with Employee Burnout


Chronic employee burnout is a symptom of poor time management and stress, costing businesses a great deal.


  • Lack of rest and recharge contributes to employee burnout at an accelerating rate.
  • The American Institute of Stress estimates that 1 million workers are absent every day due to stress, and it costs employers $602 per employee per year. 
  • The NCBI advises signs of burnout include: exhaustion, alienation, and reduced performance.


What can employers do to prevent employee burnout and improve the productivity and happiness levels of their workers?

The doctor orders more vacation (and not just taking vacations but having vacations too).


Burnt out Employees Cost Real Money


Employee burnout is a costly problem for your organization.  According to Joel Goh, Harvard Business School assistant professor of business administration in Technology and Operations Management, workplace stress causes additional healthcare expenditures, anywhere from $125 billion to $190 billion annually.  Then there are the other serious impacts of employee burnout that can lead to declining revenues. Charlie DeWitt, VP of Business Development at Kronos said in a press release,


Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions. While many organizations take steps to manage employee fatigue, there are far fewer efforts to proactively manage burnout…This creates a never-ending cycle of disruption that makes it difficult to build the high-performing workforce needed to compete in today’s business environment.

Employee Burnout is an Organizational Problem


It’s denial to blame employees for burnout. This phenomenon must be understood to be a symptom of organizational issues that need solving.  It’s often expected that employees should be multi-tasking, checking their mobile devices, and trying to refocus repeatedly from every distraction.

What’s different today from just a decade ago?


There are two issues here:

  1. Americans are taking less vacation time than they did in the past.
  2. Even on their brief vacations, employees tend to stay connected to work.

American business culture has always been shy on having frequent vacations. It’s part of the American work ethic. But vacation deprivation is now worse than ever before. However, the bigger difference is how all this smart technology has created a work culture of always being, even during our brief vacations. Interestingly, some of the job demand is created by management, but a good amount of this idea is not based in reality. It’s common to experience high stress with little to no downtime. Many jobs and industries have “crunch times” when workers are required to put in longer hours or work more intensely for a period of time. While this can invigorate people, it starts becoming problematic when it becomes the norm. Workers need time to recover from their labors. They need time to bounce back from stressful situations. And they need to avoid being connected to work 24/7.


How do Employees Get Burned Out?


The science behind employee burnout is a complex and widely studied topic. Currently, the JD-R model (job demands-resources model) is recognized as one of the leading job stress models among researchers. This occupational stress model suggests that strain is a response to the imbalance between the demands on the individual and on resources. Assuming that every job has its own set of demands and resources, the JD-R model demonstrates at what point a worker becomes stressed and experiences negative health consequences. Likewise, when the job demands and resources are balanced, there is increased well-being. Strain results in health issues; well-being results in better job performance.


Burnout Varies from Person to Person


How employees get burnt out can vary from person to person, but generally the more time they spend at work with little time to recuperate, the higher their stress and illness levels get.

  • The JD-R model and the associated research predicted that job demands that are high combined with a lack of resources can produce burnout in employees.
  • Physical and mental exhaustion develops faster than disengagement, which we already know is becoming a huge problem in many workplaces.
  • The health impairment process caused by the gradual draining of energy and engagement in employees can lead to decreased performance and demotivation.


Prevention is Key to Reducing Burnout


It can be hard to detect burnout. Certain work environments and norms in workplaces are typically high-stress. There are some ways that employees and employers can work together to prevent burnout from happening.


Best practices that can be taken to stop burnout:


  1. Communicate recommendations for best practices for taking time off in accordance with policies
  2. Establish ‘watchdog’ system to ensure employees take scheduled time off.
  3. Train management to spot the signs of burnout and how to support employees back to mental and physical well-being.  
  4. Create a culture based on work-life balance instead of workaholism.


The Symptoms of Employee Burnout


Ask yourself this: What early warning systems are in place if an employee hasn’t been on vacation for a long time, should a flag get raised somewhere? The symptoms of employee burnout can be insidious. Even a high producing employee can develop burnout if he or she is not taking time to recover from stressful work projects or resource shortages. It’s important to manage this from the standpoint of good time management principles. Schedules should be reviewed to make sure employees are not overwhelmed to the point where they are taking work home or spending too much time at the office.


Can Vacationing Reduce or Prevent Burnout?


The evidence is overwhelming that taking a vacation helps to reduce, and even prevent employee burnout. A restful vacation can even alleviate depression and stress levels. A study of 1,500 women conducted by Marshfield Clinic in rural Wisconsin showed that those who vacationed less than once every two years were more prone to depression and stress than others who took vacation days at least two times per year.


A similar study performed by the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Center of 1,400 individuals of both sexes found that leisure activities contributed to higher positive emotional levels. The fringe benefits of taking time away from work included lower blood pressures and smaller waistlines.


Last year, the American Psychological Association concluded in their study that vacations work to reduce stress levels by removing people from the activities and environments that generate stress. When working people take the time to get away from work, on a consistent basis, they can be more productive and happier when they return.


Only a Certain Kind of Vacationing is Effective


To take things one step further, there is one kind of vacation that is more effective and restorative than others. While taking time off is beneficial, a poorly planned (or unplanned) vacation has been shown to increase stress. However, taking a well-planned vacation is restorative and stress reducing. Several steps at work must be taken to prepare in advance of leaving for vacation.


For example, creating a To-Do list of things to complete when returning, and delegating responsibilities while gone. Employees can gain the maximum benefit from a planned vacation by committing to avoiding all work aspects for the duration of the vacation. This includes unplugging from technology and not replying to emails. A change of environment combined with rest can refresh the human mind and body.Employees should be encouraged to schedule and plan time off in advance and avoid using this time to deal with other responsibilities.Then, and only then, can employees return to work happier and more productive than before they left.


Is my Organization Impacted by Employee Burnout?


Ask your management team if:


  1. Do formerly productive employees seem disconnected?
  2. Businesses are losing the innovation and creativity they once had?
  3.  Employee turnover is starting to impact the business?
  4. They feel unhappy or frustrated?
  5. Are employees prone to call out sick on Mondays?


If you didn’t get a clear NO on all questions there may be a problem with employee and/or manager burnout at your organization.


To learn more of how scheduled vacations can support healthy and productive employees and how to make a change in your organization subscribe to our mailing list. Or if you are ready to start crafting a program for your business to vacation smarter, please check out our pioneer program.


Filed Under: business caseEmployeeBenefitspolicies and practices

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