Benefits and Compensation, Q&A

Encouraging PTO to Avoid Burnout in 2023

In today’s workplace, work-life balance, flexibility, psychological safety, and advocacy for mental health and well-being are all signs of a positive culture. With employee burnout at a record high, organizations are looking for new ways to keep their employees productive, happy, and stress-free.

Fortunately, organizations already a tool they can utilize: paid time off (PTO). According to experts, PTO has been identified as a potential strategy for reducing burnout. And it’s underutilized as more than half of full-time U.S. employees did not use all of their earned PTO in 2022.

To combat burn out, it’s essential for HR leaders and managers to encourage PTO and protect their employees’ mental health and wellbeing. So, what can employers do to encourage their employees to use their entire PTO? We’ve tapped Annie Rosencrans, People & Culture Director, Americas at HiBob for insight.

Here’s what she had to say.

What is the negative impact of low PTO utilization on employees and business productivity?

AR: When employees don’t take time off, it can lead to burnout, increased stress, and decreased job satisfaction. At worst, it can result in a decline in mental and physical health, which in turn, could lead to high absenteeism, increased healthcare costs, and reduced productivity. Additionally, employees may feel undervalued and unappreciated, leading to low morale, high turnover, and difficulties in attracting and retaining talent. From a business standpoint, low PTO utilization can impact the bottom line due to decreased productivity, increased errors, and missed deadlines. Ultimately, by not encouraging employees to take their PTO, businesses risk decreased performance and profitability. Therefore, it is crucial for businesses to encourage their employees to use PTO to maintain their wellbeing and ensure maximum productivity and business success.

How can HR leaders recognize the signs for overwhelmed and burnt-out employees?

AR: HR leaders need to ensure they are being consistently attentive and alert to displays of these signs, attitudes, and/or performance. Burnt-out employees may exhibit physical symptoms that cause them to take more sick leave than expected, but managers and coworkers may also sense a withdrawal from work by their team members – a clear sign that they are no longer engaged. To counter this, HR leaders can encourage open communication, conduct regular check-ins, and offer support and resources to employees who may be struggling. They can also prioritize and promote a healthy work-life balance and ensure that workloads are manageable, and employees have the necessary resources to perform their jobs effectively. By recognizing the signs of burnout, HR leaders can take proactive steps to address the underlying issues, support employee wellbeing and mental health, and maintain a productive and engaged workforce.

How can organizations facilitate conversations around taking PTO for mental wellbeing?

AR: Companies can do this by prioritizing and promoting a culture of open communication and destigmatizing the conversation around mental health. HR leaders can start by acknowledging the importance of mental health and encouraging employees to take time off to focus on their mental wellbeing. They can also provide resources and support to employees to help them identify and manage stressors that may be affecting their mental health. During HiBob’s Wellbeing Week in 2022, the financial management workshops were the best attended while yoga classes were less so, which is an indication that there are usually very specific reasons behind some stress triggers. Organizations can also create policies that explicitly recognize mental health as a valid reason for taking PTO, ensuring that employees feel comfortable and supported when requesting time off.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

AR: Organizations should not look at paid time off as a benefit that has to be offered but rather as a strategic culture building tool that demonstrates a company’s approach to values such as work-life balance and employee wellbeing. This is particularly important when you consider the impact to both businesses and employees of not taking time off to recharge their batteries, spend time with their loved ones, and come back to work refreshed and re-energized. Meanwhile, employers get to avoid the dreaded “Zombie Apocalypse” where employees trudge through the day like lifeless, robotic creatures.

Organizations can also encourage employees to use their PTO by celebrating the time taken off from work. For example, managers should carve out time in team meetings to have team members share highlights from their time away and even to share pictures from their travels. 

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