It's likely no surprise that employee burnout and stress reached all-time highs in 2022.
The American Psychological Association found that 79 percent of U.S. adult workers experienced work-related stress this year, which included emotional exhaustion and physical fatigue that resulted in a lack of motivation and energy. And there have been more searches on Google through the year for the term "burnout symptoms" than ever before, reports Harvard Business Review.
Thankfully, the holiday season presents an opportunity for employees to relax and recharge so they can return motivated to succeed in January.
If you're looking for ways to encourage employees to take a break, review these six strategies that hopefully will lead to some much-needed rest and relaxation during the holidays.
1. Empower Workers to Take Time Off
Many employees are given time off during the holidays, but it's important to embolden them to actually take advantage of those days away from the workplace.
At Datasite, a software-as-a-service provider in Minneapolis with 900 employees, all employees are encouraged to take holiday vacation time this month and next, CHRO Deb LaMere said.
"Over the past two years, workers have dealt with a lot of disruption, including a global pandemic, rising inflation and now a potential impending recession," she said. "Stress levels are likely high."
In addition to holiday time off, the company "provides a flexible environment that empowers employees to partner with their managers to step away from work whenever necessary—whether it's to exercise, run errands or take care of other personal needs," she said. "We also offer the chance for employees to leave the workspace to participate in team activities, such as volunteering, since everyone knows that when you do good, you feel good."
LaMere added that whether you encourage employees to take time off to volunteer or to simply recharge, "your message that you support their well-being speaks volumes about what you as a leader—and an organization—value."
2. Lead by Example
If you want employees to take time off, it's important to give them "permission" to do so, which means that company leaders should prioritize taking time off and not create a workaholic environment where employees are expected to be "on" all the time, said Charlotte Kackley, SHRM-SCP, HR director at Merchant Maverick in Santa Monica, Calif.
"Doing so helps team members feel comfortable taking PTO and also sets reasonable expectations as far as what needs to be accomplished between now and the end of the year," she said.
Zach Smith, chief activation officer at Activate 180, a coaching company in Irvine, Calif., said, "Leaders should not just verbally encourage their employees to take time off. They should personally showcase these actions and lead by example." The best way to do this, he said, is "by individually inquiring about whether employees would like to take time off to rest during the holidays and even pointing out that it has been a while since somebody has enjoyed time off."
Additionally, managers can announce their own vacation plans, ask others to talk about their coming days off and remind employees to share their out-of-office schedules during team meetings.
"This tactic encourages individuals who have not taken a break to think about planning a trip or taking time to rest in the way that best suits them," Smith said. "When managers show that work/life balance is a priority, they model healthy habits that remind people that they can only be as good to the company as they are to themselves."
3. Give Employees Enough Time Off
Providing time away from work during the holidays is a given, but consider extending the break to really give employees the chance to relax with their families, take a trip or celebrate however they want.
Celia Balson, founder and CEO of Work Friendly, an HR consulting agency in Chicago, said she provides her employees with unlimited take-what-you-need PTO over the holidays. Her teams utilize it regularly.
"We encourage employees to travel, [go on] adventures and take vacations with their families," she said. "Encouraging employees to take breaks helps enforce a company culture where wellness is prioritized and, in turn, helps employees feel appreciated and supported by their organization and management."
4. Communicate the Importance of a Break
Before the holidays, amp up communication to let employees know about the importance of taking a break.
"Be transparent before the holidays and let your employees know how integral it is to take time off. Also, explain that there are no brownie points for working when others aren't," said Linda Ho, chief people officer at Seismic, a global sales enablement platform in San Diego with 1,500 employees.
"Most importantly, ensure employees are aware that they are entitled to a break and shouldn't feel guilty or stressed about taking time away," she advised.
5. Encourage Everyone to Unplug
Workers may know how crucial it is to take a break, but what does taking a break look like? Does it mean a complete departure from work or only checking e-mails a few times each day? Should they keep Slack turned on?
According to Smith, supervisors need to explain to employees that before they are away, they should prepare so that they can truly be professionally unplugged.
"This requires them to take initiative prior to their breaks so that they continue to meet project deadlines," he said. "Individuals will also need to set boundaries and establish automated e-mail responses, redirect internal and external communications to available team members, and schedule important meetings before or after time off. Once this is done, people can truly relax and spend their time away as they intended."
6. Turn Off Notifications
You can talk to employees about how they should unplug, or you could do it for them. Depending on the type of business, it may be a good idea to manually shut down all company correspondence to remove the temptation for employees to check e-mail, Slack and other communication channels and feel the need to respond.
"There are various tool-suppression functionalities to ensure employees are not pulled back into work during a break, such as turning off notifications, delaying e-mails or even disconnecting accounts," Ho said.
By implementing the right steps and ensuring employees really take the time off they need, you can prevent burnout and positively impact productivity in the year ahead.
"For many, [whether they are] on the clock or not, it can be difficult to turn off the work mindset," Ho said. "If employees don't take true, complete time off, burnout is right around the corner. The new year is a great opportunity to start anew and recharge for the unique opportunities and challenges 2023 will inevitably bring."
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.