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Respect The Out Of Office – How Companies Can Encourage Time Off (Why They Should)

Written by: Ellyn Schinke, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Ellyn Schinke

You know what we need to stop doing? Paying lip service to caring about employee burnout and then disrespecting their time off...

Business team male and female colleagues talking at work.

We’re in a season where that happens a lot. Now, I couldn't find any statistics on how frequently this happens (trust me I tried). Perhaps that’s because you're being contacted through your personal devices. There's no way to monitor that.


But, as I was looking for stats, I came across this article on "Ask a Manager." The person in question described a scenario in which someone was "rage typing"  a familiar experience for most of us because she was supposed to be on vacation and was getting contacted on her personal cell phone throughout her week off. In fact, she was contacted 5 times the very first day of her vacation.


And this person? They did everything right.

  • They let everyone know they would be out of office

  • They communicated who would be filling in for them

  • They set an out of office with how long they’d be out for

  • They had an out of office responder set-up communicating all the above information in case someone missed it.

This is how it works. You are notified often with plenty of notice that someone is going out of town and, in my opinion, there's no excuse. Especially when it comes to the holidays. When the holidays are approaching, we know people are going to be out of the office. We know this. We have to plan ahead, but people often still contact us on our time off. Why is that?


1. We've conditioned them too


This is particularly true if you were an essential worker, healthcare worker, or some other emergency responder during the COVID pandemic. Especially for healthcare workers, everything about the pandemic was a crisis mode. So, we probably blurred the lines: answering emails on nights, weekends, and vacations. However, with the pandemic in our rearview, we cannot keep doing this. It's not sustainable and it's already driven some great people away from careers they used to love because  newsflash! They're burned out. So, yes, we may have been part of the problem at some point, but that's likely because COVID forced our hand. And importantly  we can decide to change!


2. Our companies aren't truly supportive of time off


This is where the "paying lip-service" comes back into play. If a company says they care about your burnout and want to support you through it, violating the exact time off they’ve agree to can only be called disrespectful.


I have very little tolerance for this anymore, especially after seeing some of the studies on unused vacation. In 2019, pre-pandemic, American workers had a record 768 million unused vacation days (US Travel Association). In 2020, due to COVID, the average workday lengthened by 1 hour and, overwhelmingly, Americans shortened, postponed, or canceled their planned time off (CNBC). Since 2000, America's vacation usage has dropped a full week, from almost 3 weeks down to 16 days (Harvard Business Review). The irony is that not only are these people basically donating their time and working for free, but they're less likely to get a raise or promotion. In fact, if you take 11 or more of your vacation days, you are more than 30% more likely to receive a raise or promotion than those who took 10 days of vacation or less.

mind blown emoji

Why should we be so up in arms about this? Well, besides the obvious, our employees are already giving so much more than they should, especially over the last couple years. We cannot and should not ask them to give more when they're on vacation.


In another social psychology study, they found that persons who didn't use their vacation days "lacked detachment self-efficacy," meaning that they "did not expect to feel relaxed on vacation, and expected negative financial consequences of vacations."


I'm going to go out on a pretty sturdy limb here and say that they probably didn't feel like they could relax because they a) either felt compelled to check-in, or b) were being contacted. Or both.


Fortunately, though, there are some things that companies can do to demonstrate that they respect their employee's time off.

  • Model vacation and taking time off. I think a lot of behavior and culture change starts by leaders modeling the behaviors they want their employees to engage in. Leaders can model taking time off (and being fully disconnected on their time-off) to their employees so that their employees can start understanding and seeing that it is okay.

  • Reward people for the work they're doing, NOT the hours they've put in. A lot of employees believe there will be negative consequences at work for them taking time off, and, despite what the studies say, those beliefs have to come from somewhere. Employees likely are seeing their companies promoting, bonusing, and awarding the people who are "living and breathing" the organization in question. That's not just a Netflix show phenomenon. It's real life. Until organizations shift the behaviors they reward, you're the living embodiment of a burnout culture, and you're discouraging your people from taking the very breaks they need to be at their best.

  • Don’t make snarky comments when people do schedule vacations. This is the person who makes the snarky "must be nice" comment when you share that you're going somewhere or taking some time off. This is the person who makes the "while we were all here working" comment when you share your vacation pictures. Sure, sometimes it's done in jest, but sometimes it's really not. And we notice the difference.

  • Have times of year that are designated, company-wide downtime. In 2021, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to several groups at LinkedIn. Each time, the various groups brought up the fact that LinkedIn does a company-wide shut-down in June. I love that because this harkens back to what I mentioned before: sometimes people don't take time off because they know they won't be able to fully disconnect and relax because work is still going on back in the office. Some industries have people working 24/7, so, if you ever stop working, you very well might miss something. All company shutdowns encourage full disconnection, which is the best kind of break.

  • Respect the out-of-office. Honestly, this is the biggest, most important and it's so simple. If someone has followed company protocols, let everyone that should be informed know that they're going to be on vacation, etc., then leave them alone. Don't call. Don't email. Don't text. An out-of-office does not mean "text me on my personal number." An out-of-office means that someone is out-of-office. Period. End of story. And if there are such fires and emergencies that you have to contact someone on their day off or vacation then, honestly, your company has much bigger sustainability issues at play.

Now, I do know that sometimes you have to send blanket communications OR perhaps you're working and don't want to forget to contact them about something. Okay. In situations like that, I recommend putting a note in the Subject Line that says something like "Do Not Respond Until You're Back To Work." Then, in the off chance that they do check their email while they're out, they know that this isn't an important item to respond to.


For employees, if you have an email come in that you don't want to forget to respond to, see if your inbox has a "snooze" feature. This is something I first experimented with in the application Superhuman (a cool, albeit costly web plug-in for email) and now also use in my email client Mailbird. It allows me to snooze an email until I return to the office so that I don't forget to respond to it.


So, in a nutshell, respect the out-of-office. All employees deserve to take the time off they need without snarky comments, guilt, etc. As a result, companies will get the best out of their employees, build an anti-burnout culture, and ensures that you keep your best employees around as long as possible.


Because, in my opinion, nothing makes you want to quit a job like your time-off being constantly disrespected.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Ellyn Schinke Brainz Magazine
 

Ellyn Schinke, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ellyn Schinke is a former scientist turned top coach and international speaker specializing in burnout and stress management. After burning out while pursuing her Ph.D., Ellyn was sick of all the cookie-cutter, BS burnout tips online and sought out the real, tangible tactics that would actually make a difference in her life. As a result, burnout when from being her lifestyle to her passion. Now, she's focused on helping corporate professionals and businesses free themselves from burnout and take back their lives. Ellyn is the founder and CEO of Coach Ellyn LLC, one of the top burnout coaches on Google, host of the Burned Out to Badass podcast, and more. Her mission: Make burnout a choice.

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