Current research shows that employees worldwide are more stressed, worried, angry, and sad than before the COVID-19 pandemic. 57% of employees in the United States and Canada report high-stress levels. These increased levels of stress, worry, and other negative emotions are primary indicators of future employee burnout (Gallup, 2021). To battle these negative emotions and potential burnouts, many companies are instituting mandatory vacations for their employees. How does mandating vacation improve employee wellbeing and how does it support the organization as a whole? Continue reading to find out.
In recent years, employees worldwide have been affected by global pandemics, economic crises, racial and political tensions, and mental health crises. The pandemic has caused a ripple effect across employees and business leaders of every industry and in every location.
Workforce mental health
Currently, only 20% of employees worldwide feel engaged, involved, and enthusiastic about their careers, only 32% of employees feel that they are thriving in their lives, and a little over 40% of employees worldwide report experiencing worry and stress “during a lot of the previous day.” Since 2009, worry, stress, anger, and sadness have been increasing in the global workforce. There was a sharp increase in many of these negative traits during the COVID-19 pandemic (Gallup, 2021).
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” - Anne Lamott
The negative emotions and traits that have developed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic encourage the development of employee burnout. The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “a special type of work-related stress.” Burnout is a “state of physical or emotional exhaustion” (Mayo Clinic, 2021). Other sources state that burnout is when an employee has “exhausted their physical or emotional strength” (Lab Manager,2009).
Burnout can be costly for companies; increasing expenditures on healthcare, reducing employee productivity, and increasing the likelihood of employee resignation (Lab Manager, 2009). Harvard Business School estimates that workplace stress and burnout are responsible for up to 8% of national spending on health care and contribute to 120,000 deaths per year (Blanding, 2015). Studies have shown that employees who are suffering from burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times more likely to look for other employment options (Wigert & Agrawal, 2018). Replacing these burnt out employees can cost on average 6 to 9 months of their salary (Merhar, 2020). For example, if a manager who makes $60,000 a year resigns, it can cost $30,000 to $45,000 in training and recruiting expenses to replace that one employee.
“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” - Peter Drucker
Corporations that have mandated vacations
In response to these increasingly negative statistics and the potential cost of replacing employees suffering from burnout, many corporations are instituting mandated vacations for their employees. The following corporations are some of the many that started mandating vacation.
NAMI - The National Alliance for Mental Illness
From August 1st through 8th of 2021, the National Alliance for Mental Illness established a corporate-wide “Mental Health Rest Up Week.” During this paid mental health week, all offices except an emergency mental health helpline, were closed for employees to focus on their mental health and wellbeing. In their press release, they stated that they are doing this to provide “a mental health break from what has been a tumultuous year and a half of virtual work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” CEO Daniel Gillison further explains this decision in his statement, “We have to be advocates for our own employees and give them an opportunity for self-care. Like many Americans, NAMI employees have been working tirelessly in changing conditions since the pandemic began, and we feel it is necessary to hit the pause button and give our employees a chance to rest. Our people are our greatest asset.” They hope that this mandated vacation will encourage other corporations to prioritize their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
LinkedIn employees worldwide were mandated a paid week off starting April 5th, 2021 (Vasel, 2021). Part of LinkedIn’s management procedure is quarterly employee surveys. In 2021, surveys started to reveal some of the weight that employees were carrying in light of the pandemic. Many employees reported feelings of burnout, “lack of self-care”, family struggles, and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Many employees were having difficulty unplugging from the workload that is now done at home remotely. In response to this LinkedIn started a program called “LiftUp” to “address burnout, work-family balance, [and] people feeling lonely and isolated.” They instituted several programs for employees and managers including highly favored “no-meeting days.” Part of this “LiftUp” program was also an additional mandated week off of work.
Previously, LinkedIn had a December shutdown which reportedly re-energized employees and inspired their new weeklong shutdown. In an interview with ABC news, Teuila Hanson, LinkedIn’s Chief People Officer, shares that LinkedIn wanted to address burnout and self-care while also showing gratitude to their employees. Hanson states that “we wanted to make sure we could give them something really valuable, and what we think is most valuable right now is time for all of us to collectively walk away. And what is really nice after a shutdown, you come back and you don't have a barrage of emails or meeting notes that you feel like you have catch up on or you feel like you have to peek at your email. You want the goodness of your vacation to last a little bit when you come back” (Vasel, 2021).
“When we are no longer able to change a situation. We are challenged to change ourselves.” - Victor Frankl
Hootsuite is a social media management platform that has also instituted a week-long company shutdown called a “Wellness Week.” In a press release from Hootsuite, they stated that “the pandemic reminded us how important mental health is. So we’re making big moves to support our people—including a company-wide week off.” They sight the many effects that COVID-19 has had on millions of people as well as the effects of racial and political tension as part of their reasoning for instituting a week-long shutdown. Hootsuite also acknowledges that the transition to working from home has led some employees to work more because of a lack of separation from home and work.
They summarize their responsibility to their employees in the following impactful statement: “Traditionally, the workplace has been a place where people have been asked to check their personal lives at the door, but as organizations consider thoughtful new approaches to where people will work (with hybrid models seeming like the most coveted options these days), we’re also recognizing an increased responsibility towards the health of our people—and that means encouraging them to bring their whole selves to work.” Hootsuite is embracing the mental health needs of their employees with a mandated week off of work and additional mental health programs which will ultimately benefit production levels, turnover rates, and employee wellbeing (Jensen, 2021).
Lessonly is a workplace training platform that is now not only implementing unlimited paid time off programs, but also company-wide winter breaks, and a mandatory vacation week in July (Place, 2021). Megan Jarvis, Vice President of Talent at Lessonly, explains that they are implementing these programs to “not only [respond] to what’s happened over the last year” but because they want to ensure that they are “continuing to support that whole person as part of [their] team.” (Place, 2021). In an interview with Employee Benefit News, she explains that one of the primary reasons for this increased mandate on vacations is to encourage employees to rejuvenate and unplug. Another reason is because of the variations in job experiences amongst team members. Jarvis states that “if we leave it to each individual to decide what to do when my company tells me to take time off and we don’t set an example, we have people who have different definitions based on their experiences. So set some times to make sure individuals are taking the time because they might not have the trust to do it based on their experiences.” (Place, 2021).