HR Query

HR Query: Is Leavism the Latest Toxic Workplace Trend?

As layoffs in various industries continue, employees are feeling the impact of thinning teams on their workload. To stay on top of their tasks, many employees are turning to leavism, where they use PTO time to catch up on outstanding assignments.

Although this gives employees the chance to cross things off their list, it also increases the chance of burnout, eliminating the necessary time for them to recharge.

In this week’s HR Query, Jennifer Dulski –  a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business, expert in HR tech and workplace culture space, and CEO of team development platform Rising Team – shares how this trend promotes toxic workplace culture as well as how HR leaders and managers can make sure their employees are using PTO to take time off.

Here’s what she had to say.

What is leavism?

JD: Leavism is when an employee uses their PTO or sick days to catch up on work tasks rather than taking the time to recharge. Workers will often resort to this when their workload begins to feel unmanageable. Using PTO or sick days allows them to have a full day to complete assignments without interruption from meetings or administrative duties that cut into their workflow.

How does this trend promote toxic workplace culture?

JD: While it may sound like an easy way to catch up on work, leavism increases feelings of burnout. When employees feel the need to turn to leavism, it typically signals that they’re unwilling or unable to tell their managers that their workload has become too much. They feel disconnected from leadership and less psychologically safe, so they are afraid to ask for help. As a result, these employees are overworked, less productive and unsatisfied in their positions because they’re using their time off for work tasks.

How can managers make sure employees are using PTO to take time off?

JD: First, managers should set a good example by using their own PTO to unplug and relax. When managers are on their own time off, they should try to stay offline as much as possible to model that behavior. Taking real time off as a manager has two big benefits for your team: first it shows you believe that PTO matters, and second, it gives your team a chance to step up and take more responsibility while you are out. When their teams are on PTO, managers should make it clear that employees should not be signing on during their time off and encourage employees to hand off their time-sensitive tasks to a colleague. If you do notice a message or email from a colleague that’s on PTO, urge them to log off and make the most of their vacation or wellness days. 

How can managers set the precedent to encourage work/life balance?

JD: There are two key elements to work/life balance. First is ensuring people have the time and space to take care of themselves and their lives outside of work, including PTO. Managers should show their teams that work/life balance is valued by not reaching out to employees while they’re on PTO, and by staying offline on their own PTO. While this may seem obvious, many managers do not always follow it in practice. Employees will feel more at ease using their PTO knowing that their managers respect their time and want them to find a healthy balance between their work and personal life. 

The second part of encouraging work/life balance is to build strong connections among colleagues so they understand what’s happening in each other’s lives outside of work and can offer patience and support when needed. Not every “life” moment is going to require days of PTO. Sometimes it’s just a midday school event, or a pet that needs a trip to the vet.

What should managers do if employees show signs of burnout?

JD: If a manager suspects burnout, they should start by talking with their teammates to learn more about how they are feeling. If they determine burnout is a challenge, here are three ways to help:

  1. Prioritize workloads: Sometimes people are burned out because they genuinely have too much on their plate. Help your team members prioritize their work based on what is most important to reach your team’s goals. Sometimes there are projects that can be delayed or dropped to give better focus to fewer things.
  2. Provide flexible work: The data is clear that the majority of employees value flexible work, including the ability to work from home some of the time. The more that managers can give employees control over when and where they work, the less likely the employees are to suffer from burnout.
  3. Encourage PTO: Sometimes people just need some time to recharge. If someone has gone too long without using their PTO, managers should check in and suggest some time off to re-energize. 

Overall, companies should ensure that employees are focused on the most important work, are taking advantage of PTO, and offer flexible work schedules when possible. These steps will show the team that their company trusts them to get the job done, resulting in company satisfaction, productivity, and overall retention.

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