Time away from work is important in the best of times, but during a worldwide pandemic, experts say it’s even more so. California psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Love likens the mental health consequences of COVID to a tsunami. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) surveys show increasing depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts due to stress from the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Combine the ongoing mental health issues from the pandemic with work responsibilities and stressors, and the need for a break from all that stress becomes clear.
Studies like the Framingham Heart Study have found that not taking vacations from work increase the likelihood of heart attack for both men and women by 30 to 50%. That means vacations are important for both mental and physical health. Professionals like Duke Clinical Research Institute assistant vice president of human resources says that time-off benefits provide life-work balance. Duke counselor Donna Parrish says time off relieves pressure and provides much needed breaks from responsibilities and duties.
Why Skip Vacation?
FastCompany reports that a recent Bankrate poll shows Americans planned to take only a quarter or fewer of their vacation days in 2020, and Glassdoor found that in 2018 they only took about 54% of their available time off. American workers were already known for not taking all their time off, but the pandemic travel restrictions and safety concerns have made that even worse.
Employees may be reluctant to take time off out of guilt over busy times, extra assignments, or big projects, concerns over safety during activities outside of work, or worry about funds for vacation expenses. They may not be able to go to normal vacation destinations due to COVID closings.
Eric Titner, writing for The Job Network, explains that people have many reasons for not taking time off, including being afraid that it would jeopardize their jobs. He goes on to explain that there may be no vacation benefits or they may be juggling multiple jobs, making scheduling time off almost impossible. But these added pressures make taking time off even more important than ever.
What Employers Can Do
Eva Del Rio of HRbox advises employers to support employee time off by requesting that they take it, not assuming that they know their employer wants them to. She says citing research about the benefits of time away from work and discussing its importance lets employees know it’s ok. She says to assure employees that taking time off won’t impact their job and is not seen as neglecting work. Discussing time off in meetings and work groups builds the impression that the employer understands and supports the value of time off to refresh and recharge.
Writing for Society for Human Resource Management, Theresa Agovino says Willis Towers Watson consulting leader Jackie Reinberg stresses the importance of employers letting employees know they care about them, and that they know that time away from work is important. WorkHuman chief human resources officer Steve Pemberton emphasizes that employers need to remain aware of the way the pandemic affects mental health and the need for time away from work.
Employers like Assure Women’s Center in Omaha, Nebraska, have allowed employees to carry over vacation time instead of a strict use-it-or-lose-it vacation benefit that expires if not used by a deadline. Easing or revising vacation policies because of the added stress from the ongoing pandemic and work-from-home changes preserves the earned benefit while adding the flexibility that employees need to plan for time off.
Letting your employees know that you understand and support the need for time away from work, discussing the research about it, and asking them to take their earned time off will make them feel comfortable and confident in scheduling vacation time. It’s more important than ever during pandemic conditions to recognize the added stressors and to support ways for your employees to manage them.