Support employee mental health with a mandatory leave program

Support employee mental health with a mandatory leave program

Joe Ali is Vice President of Products and Operations at Count, an employee compensation platform. Alim was also co-founder and COO of talent-tech startup, ScholarJet.

I had only been work in the company for eight months when our CEO told me to pick a week to take off or she would pick for me. Although I learned that was his simple and typical way of doing things, I knew that the strategy of mandating furloughs was becoming a way for companies to promote wellness and engage the employees. Anyway, after committing and taking this leave, I was able to avoid burnout and continue to thrive in my role.

The culture of burnout is accelerating as mass layoffs continue across all industries. Already exhausted employees are expected to work longer hours or leave; it’s a the ultimatum given by Elon Musk the rest of the Twitter staff.

It is also a warning sign about your organization. Instead of addressing the symptoms, forward-thinking companies seek to address the root of the problem by committing to employee well-being. A meaningful way to end the toxic work culture is to mandatory leave.

The Badvantages of imposing holidays

Emphasizing the importance of health and wellness as part of mandatory leave policies is a great way to help your team take care of themselves. Research has shown many benefits of free time:

  1. Increased engagement and productivity. The Society for Human Resource Management reported that employees who were granted mandatory time off greater job satisfaction than those who were not. And as Shashank Nigam and Neil Pasricha said in a Harvard Business Review 2017 articletaking time can lead to more creativity.
  2. Better Culture. If employees lack true work-life integration, they will burn out. Mandatory holidays create a culture where people feel comfortable taking time off when needed instead of feeling guilty for missing work or not performing at their best due to lack of rest. It also encourages employers to ensure that each employee has all the tools necessary to succeed in their job while effectively managing stress without sacrificing their own mental or physical health.
  3. Fewer sick days. Aon Hewitt found a link between employee well-being and absence management, concluding that organizations that invest in well-being should reduce lost productivity over time. A 2012 report by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans found that cost savings of one to three dollars in health care costs for every dollar spent on an employee wellness program, the results United States Chamber of Commerce (pdf) supported.

How do you box support employees with mandatory time off

Be accommodating. The first step is to create a program that can meet the needs of all types of employees. It’s important to consider how they will enjoy their free time and whether you want to set restrictions on what they do with it or limit the time they are allowed to use. Just note that putting too many restrictions negates the purpose of this concept.

Create a clear and adaptable policy. A mandatory leave program requires clear rules that are easy to understand and follow. The implementation of the following elements allows the organization and the structure:

Review your federal and state laws, current company policies and procedures. Review them in relation to vacation accrual to understand what employees are entitled to receive under existing policies before developing new ones. Next, decide what benefits will be offered as part of your mandatory leave program (specifically if it is an extended leave such as a one-month sabbatical). Finally, document these benefits by creating a employee handbook that clearly states when employees should expect to receive their first pay check after the start date of their leave period(s).

As with any benefits program, adjust accordingly. As your business grows and your employees’ needs change, so should your leave policy (among other things).

Lead by example and reinforce. Employees need to feel like they can use their free time as they see fit without feeling like they’re sacrificing job security or productivity. Forcing people to take time off seems like an easy sell: who doesn’t want more time to enjoy their personal life? But the truth is, the toxic workplace culture has long been instilled in employees, making people feel afraid to take time offas if they didn’t deserve to relax or put their well-being ahead of professional projects and OKRs.

If you really want people out of the office, go on vacation yourself. As a leader, people will follow your lead, including taking time to rest and recharge.

Setting and supporting boundaries also helps. When employees are absent, make sure they are completely disconnected. A team approach helps ensure this happens:

  • Make sure employees know when a colleague is on vacation and they don’t disturb them.
  • Please remind them that messaging and communication tools allow scheduled messages (a nice invention) to meet time limits.
  • Be picky about the subject of your message to ensure they are not inundated with emails that may have been waiting for them to return or issues that others could have solved.

How long should a company impose?

Whether a mandatory PTO policy accompanies a bank or unlimited vacation days, it’s important to determine how many days you expect employees to take off. There are several ways to approach this: require employees to be absent for a fixed period of time intermittently or in one consecutive block. For example, a policy may allow employees to take at least 5 consecutive days off each year or one day off each month to work a three-day weekend.

Some employers set a minimum number of quarterly or annual vacation days and leave the timing up to employees. Goldman Sachs, for example, requires staff to take 15 days off every year. It was a move to improve retention and morale by giving everyone a much needed break. Similarly, the marketing firm We Are Rosie mandates at least 5 days off per quarter to fight against employees who do not use their days because they feel guilty about taking time off.

In a survey of 1,000 employees, Cornerstone found that 87% believed three-day weekends were more beneficial in reducing stress than a longer vacation. It also helps prevent everyone from leaving at once on vacation (for fear of use-or-lose policies that some states still allow), hoarding days to carry over to next year, or withdrawing money – all of which are counterproductive for work-life integration.

The workforce has had to deal with and overcome a lot over the past two years: a pandemic, a recession, and now massive layoffs as the holidays approach. It is therefore not surprising that stress levels are high. Still, half of employees will not take time off unless forced to, and fear of layoffs will likely make the situation worse. As an employer, you can help your team and your bottom line by recommitting to work-life integration through mandatory leave policies.

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