Throughout history Americans have prided themselves on our stellar work ethic—be it on Henry Ford’s assembly line, meeting late night deadlines on Mad Men, and all that. Work hard enough and anyone can find success, right? Whatever the stereotypes, the negative effects of a dog-tired, worn-out workforce has begun to raise questions, and managers are coming up with innovative solutions in two areas: taking vacations (more! more!) and changing the workplace environment (greener! greener!).
Let’s start with vacations
According to an article in Boston Globe a recent Alamo Rentacar survey concluded that even when Millennials do manage to use their vacation days, their feelings of obligation and guilt (not to mention round-the-clock, wherever-you-are accessibility afforded by laptops and smartphones) drive them to work even while far away from the office,
Thirty-five percent of millennials reported that they worked every day of their vacations, and felt less productive when they returned.”
Prevalent workplace attitudes today begrudge employee down time: you, the vacationer, “aren’t pulling your weight” and/or “everything might fall apart in your absence.”This way of thinking is especially common in work environments that aren’t set up for individuals to take guilt-free time away from the office.
However, the consequences of this “never off the clock” attitude can be seen in higher costs of healthcare as well as less productivity and worker satisfaction. Some companies are implementing a pro-vacation approach, even mandatory vacations along with other buzz phrases like “unlimited vacation” and “paid-paid vacation.”
Unlimited vacation” can mean that instead of a set number of days off per year, companies rely on other employees to fill-in for their co-workers. That way a vacationer can step back into their position seamlessly. The “paid-paid” program takes it a step further by actually offering bonus money to be used specifically on days off.
A recent article in Bloomberg profiled, FullContact, a Denver-based start-up:
Each employee is granted a yearly $7,500 bonus to use for time off, with a mandate to stay completely out of touch while away. The extra pay is forfeited if that rule is broken. Co-workers pick up the slack for the vacationers and abide by detailed plans outlining who will fill holes during an absence.”
It may sound too good to be true (why would your boss “bribe” you to take a vacation?) but consider the benefits:
Your company’s bottom line: According to a 2012 report by Rutgers University’s Center for Workforce Development, over half of the Millennial workforce said they would be willing to trade 15 percent of their earnings for a better work/life balance.
Improved Productivity: According to an article in HealthNet,
The professional services firm Ernst & Young conducted an internal study of its employees and found that, for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved 8 percent, and frequent vacationers also were significantly less likely to leave the firm. Additionally, research by the Boston Consulting Group found that high-level professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive overall than those who spent more time working.”
Wellness: Studies have shown that taking advantage of downtime seriously decreases your chance of heart disease. A recent study (mentioned by CNN.com) suggests that 32 percent of individuals with a pre-existing cardiac condition were more susceptible to heart attacks and lived shorter lives if they ignored taking vacations. Likewise, investing in downtime has been shown to decrease depression. As described in HealthNet,
A study conducted by Marshfield Clinic of 1,500 women in rural Wisconsin determined that those who vacationed less often than once every two years were more likely to suffer from depression and increased stress than women who took vacations at least twice a year. Similarly, the University of Pittsburgh's Mind Body Center surveyed some 1,400 individuals and found that leisure activities – including taking vacations—contributed to higher positive emotional levels and less depression. The benefits of vacationing also extended to lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines.”
Don’t wait for vacations...demand a healthier workPLACE
This year, SpaBusiness.com reported the observations of Alfredo Carvajal of Delos, founder of the WELL Building Standard®:
Even big companies still house their employees in what are essentially unhealthy spaces. We will see the design and building of workplaces change in the next decade, with a much-needed new focus on natural light, healthy air, worker privacy and comfort, and flexible office design. [These spaces will also incorporate] different types of biophilic design—which reimagines the relationship between nature, human biology and the built environment.”
But working in a building where fresh air and sunlight abound isn’t the only answer.
Companies are using FitBits to motivate employees to walk more—get up and talk to colleagues rather than bury their heads in emails all day. Stand-up meetings are becoming popular (and they’re notably shorter). Motley Fool subsidizes an employee’s desire to participate in a fitness event (a 5,000k race, for example) by covering 50 percent of any fees. Earth Friendly Products encourages employees to move closer to the workplace via a $1,000 bonus.Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan teaches a class on mindfulness, and his job title morphed “Jolly Good Fellow.” A good roundup of these and other companies’ innovations to encourage wellness can be found at mashable.com.
Finally, what about the presence of nature in and near your workplace? A study published in Landscape and Urban Planning observes:
The immediate, nearby natural setting has been shown to play an important role in human wellbeing, particularly in the contexts of hospitals, prisons, and residential settings. In contrast, surprisingly little attention has been devoted to the role of nature in the context of the workplace. Yet a large proportion of the population spends a substantial amount of time at a place of work."
While the American workplace has a long way to go in terms of implementing pro-vacation and innovative workplace policies, these new approaches will help any worker reboot and preserve their health.
PHOTO: via Creative Commons Flickr
Health Benefits of Vacations via HealthNet
The role of nature in the context of the workplace via Landscape and Urban Planning
Take Your Vacation Time If You Know What’s Good For You via Boston Globe
Companies with amazingly unique wellness programs via Mashable
- Bosses Bribe Workers to Take Vacation in Healing U.S. Job Market via Bloomberg