Workaholics are often romanticized as incredibly dedicated, engaged employees who grind all day and night and lead their team in performance. No wonder so many young professionals aim for this title.
Evidence? Project: Time Off’s The Work Martyr’s Cautionary Tale report surveyed 5,641 workers earlier this year and found that 48 percent of participating millennials wanted to be seen as work martyrs.
Although this kind of self-identity may sound great to employers, having stressed-out employees who never leave the office is actually a recipe for disaster. Burned-out workers make more mistakes, miss more work due to health issues, are less productive and experience a decline in job satisfaction. This is why companies offer paid time off -- to avoid overwhelming their workforce.
Here are some ways employers and HR professionals can encourage employees to actually use their paid time off and achieve a better work-life balance:
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1. Set an example.
Employees often want to do everything they can in both their professional and personal lives. And, in this context, family life means a great deal to them, which is why 86 percent of employees in the Project: Time Off survey said they believed it is a bad thing to be seen as a work martyr. While they’re trying to "do it all" at the office, they also want work-life balance.
Yet having both things may not be possible, and employees need help realizing that. That's why setting an example for balance as a manager can relieve the pressure on these work enthusiasts -- especially millennials. Of the millennials surveyed by Project: Time Off, 30 percent said their boss had the most influence on how they spent their time, compared to 20 percent who said their family had the most influence.
Managers should prioritize taking time off and leaving the office each day at a reasonable time. So, if this is you, set a balanced schedule and stick to it. Maybe two days a week, leave exactly at the end of working hours, or once a week early for an event like your child’s softball game or ballet practice.
When employees see managers balancing their time between work and home, they are more likely to feel comfortable stepping away from their desks and doing the same.
2. Encourage quality over quantity.
Workplace stress, while helpful at times, needs to be manageable. Employees become unhappy when they feel overstressed; and when they reach a level of feeling overwhelmed, they want to be recognized as workaholics.
As the 2016 Project: Time Off report found, 47 percent of employees who are unhappy with their jobs believe it is a good thing to be seen as a work martyr by their boss -- and 46 percent of employees who were unhappy with their companies believed the same. Those employees were also more likely to report feeling stressed at work.
The overwhelming stress that comes with this scenario, however, can cause employee productivity to drop. The 2014 Monster International Poll found that 42 percent of the 1,000 job seekers surveyed said they had left a job due to a stressful environment. In addition, 46 percent said they had missed time at work due to work-related stress, while 61 percent said they believed stress at work had caused an illness.
These work-related illnesses and soaring turnover rates are preventable. It’s all about efficient work habits -- recognizing that the best work doesn’t always take the most time.
Remind employees that their priority shouldn't be spending as much time as possible at the office -- but on producing great work. Discourage excessive emailing, meetings for the sake of meetings and the idea that employees should always look busy. That way, employees will have more time during the day to do their work and do it well.
In addition, consider policies that allow employees to leave early if their work for the day is finished. With this shift in focus, employees will see the value in completing high-quality work efficiently and will understand that their work matters more than the time they spend in the office.
3. Celebrate life outside of the office.
Work-obsessed employees are usually motivated to uphold that image out of fear. The Project: Time Off report found that 65 percent of employees surveyed said their office culture said nothing or sent discouraging or mixed messages about taking time off.
Millennials feel this negativity even more than their colleagues. In the study, 16 percent of millennials said they felt disapproval from management about taking vacation -- and that was twice as many as their baby boomer colleagues (8 percent). Millennials are the most likely generation to forfeit time off, even though they earn the least amount of vacation days.
So, shift the conversation from business to life. Celebrate those using their time off, to encourage others to follow their lead. If you establish a culture that embraces employees’ lives outside the office, they will feel more comfortable spending time on it.
Start talking to people more, to ensure that employees are not afraid of what management thinks about their using their PTO. Gallup’s How Millennials Want to Work and Live study found that 44 percent of the employees participating who said their manager meets with them regularly were engaged, compared with only 20 percent of engaged employees who said they didn't meet regularly with their managers.
Simply put, good relationships have a huge impact on employees. When employees and managers engage in small talk and share the experiences they have outside the office, employees will feel reassured that taking time off for a much-needed vacation is strongly encouraged.