Exploring the Burnout-Vacation Connection

Photo of worker at desk surrounded by paper

Photo of worker at desk surrounded by paper“I’m not saying I’d want to go back to 2020, but 2021 has honestly been worse from a work and burnout perspective.”

This honest comment from a friend accurately reflects what so many people are feeling in the workplace today. As the world returns to “normal,” most managers are dealing with more complex issues than ever. Turnover is high in entry-level roles, and despite creative recruitment efforts/incentives, many roles remain unfilled. Who has time for a vacation when you’re just trying to keep your head above water?

The past 15 months have been the perfect recipe for universal burnout. The prolonged collective stress we’ve felt as we endured a global pandemic has taken its toll. Fewer workers took Paid Time Off during 2020 than usual. Some were banking those days in case they fell ill or needed to care for a loved one. Others chose not to take PTO because they couldn’t travel for a true vacation. And now, those same workers who feel comfortable traveling again, don’t feel like they can ask for PTO because their workload is so overwhelming. However, failing to take time off will have a detrimental impact on the individual and workplace.

Burnout has been linked to exhaustion, cognitive deficits, poorer decision making/problem solving, disengagement, dissatisfaction, reduced productivity, and higher turnover.

If your employees aren’t taking time off right now, you need to ask why. If your employees feel that can’t or shouldn’t ask for time off, then there’s a problem for you to solve. Perhaps your organization hasn’t executed an effective knowledge transfer program, so they don’t feel like they have a team member to rely on while they’re out. Or some employees may feel uncomfortable taking time off because their leaders haven’t taken any PTO for themselves. Finally, others may be concerned about future layoffs, so they’re saving their PTO days as an insurance policy.

Regardless of the reason, it’s the responsibility of the leadership team to identify and address the root of the problem. Some organizations like Bumble, LinkedIn, and Hootsuite have taken bold steps to ensure their employees take time to rejuvenate. Each of these companies have shut down for an entire week so their employees can enjoy paid time off without guilt or concern about the workload that awaits their return. For each of these organizations, the message was clear. We see that you’re struggling. We understand you may not feel like you can take time off, so we’re going to solve that problem for you and demonstrate how much we care about your mental wellbeing.

While your organization may not be ready to shut down for a week, you can take action for your own team. Reach out to each team member and ask when they plan to take time off. Encourage them to do so and help them create a plan to fully disconnect while they’re away. They will appreciate your leadership and will return with renewed energy.