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At first, it seemed like the kind of problem all CEOs want: workers you couldn’t kick out of the office. Some of my employees worked more than 100 hours a week, and it wasn’t because they felt pressured to do so. They loved their job.
But exhaustion is a real thing, and it can happen whether you enjoy it or not your job. Because people are the most critical part of a business, the lack of signs of exhaustion can leave you without continuity, support, community, and, worst of all, the risk of losing the viability of the business.
Remote work has made it harder than ever to disconnect, and I think we are seeing the effects through the Great Resignation. With low unemployment, I have never experienced such a competitive talent market. The attractiveness of higher salaries, more important job titles and more, has given employees every reason to resign. And while a great work culture can make it easier for companies to retain employees, if they don’t address the risk of burnout, employees can still move on. Whether it’s Zoom fatigue, email fatigue, Slack fatigue, or just the sheer number of work hours each week, we need to pay more attention to helping employees avoid exhaustion. Here’s how.
Related: 7 Tips to Avoid Exhaustion When Growing a Business
Burnout is not just psychological
I’ve struggled with exhaustion before, as I’m sure most people do. Pouring your heart and soul into something, even if it loves you, can be stressful. The same goes for many of my colleagues at Quantum. One of my employees has been working more than 40 hours a week for three years. I loved her passion, but I worried how this would affect her long-term health and happiness.
There are a number of signs that your workers are exhausted. You may see it in the quality of someone’s work or in their mood, but it’s not just psychological. Many people begin to struggle with insomnia, chronic fatigue, changes in eating habits, or even headaches. All of these are signs of chronic stress that involves working too hard. You can’t dedicate 100% of your time and energy to doing anything, including work.
Nor are they always just short-term effects. Working too long under conditions of chronic stress can have long-term ramifications for both the person and the company. People who have been exhausted for long periods of time may begin to struggle with depression, chronic illness, or even an increased susceptibility to autoimmune diseases such as cancer or diabetes. Companies lose, because they lose some of the best employees they have. Clearly, exhaustion is a problem. But how do we fix it?
Related: 3 ways to avoid entrepreneurial exhaustion
We have holidays, why don’t we take them?
My friend who spent too many hours a week needed a vacation, but he hadn’t taken one in years. Why not? I’ve found that there are several reasons why people don’t take vacations, but mostly, it’s because of it. They feel guilty, because their peers still show up; Many of these teammates will probably have to get the game on while the tourist is out. Still, others fear the amount of work that is likely to accumulate before they return. There is also the overriding feeling that taking a vacation somehow makes you weak or unable to keep up.
But taking a break makes us better at work. When we spend time outside the office and, most importantly, away from the mental stress of our work, we can recharge our batteries mentally and physically. Resting workers can be more productive and can help create a more positive and enjoyable work culture. But how do we get employees to really take their vacation?
Related: 4 Ways to Combat Exhaustion Before It Starts
Lead by example
I am very proud of Quantum’s leadership team: we work hard, achieve goals, outperform our market and deliver to our customers. But at the same time, it is important, even at the executive level, that we find time for ourselves. In 2021, for example, I spent 10 amazing days traveling around Greece with my 3 children and was mostly disconnected from events at work.
When I returned, I shared this trip with the entire team, both on LinkedIn and in a hands-on meeting. I also sent a heartfelt thank you to my team who kept it strong while I was out, proving that even the CEO can depend on others and disconnect. Encourage your leaders and team to share their travels. They will return laden with load and without the guilt of taking a day or a week off. They have earned it!
We force them
Sometimes it is not enough for a company to just encourage its employees to take time off. Many companies have seen this not work. According to the U.S. Travel Association, American workers left an average of 5.6 days, or 33% of their paid time off unused. While many of these same workers have chosen to become a statistic in the Great Resignation because they have run out, I think there is a better solution. Instead of encouraging our employees to take time off, we need to do it force they.
At Quantum Metric, we have a mandatory sabbatical program for which employees are eligible on their third anniversary with the company. They have three weeks off work in addition to the normal paid leave, and they to own to take it. It is not optional. During these three weeks, we cause members of our team to disconnect, temporarily closing access to their email and Slack.
And we demand that employees really have fun – tell us what they will do and then tell us everything when they come back. Now, instead of making their boss chase them to ask him why they haven’t taken their vacation yet, they tell him about the whole great skydiving trip they finally made.
This helps us build a culture where people don’t feel guilty about taking free time. If it’s mandatory, it’s another part of the job, and generating excitement around free time helps indicate to the team that it’s okay to disconnect. It also requires modeling from above. While I’m on vacation, I can’t be replying to emails right and left, because that sends the message to the computer that I still hope they’re available. Forcing us to leave the office creates a more productive and committed workforce.
Related: 5 ways to persuade employees to take vacations before they run out
Light a fire and prevent exhaustion
It has become very difficult to disconnect from work. One of the consequences of the push for distance work has become an “always active” mentality, where workers feel they need to be accessible at all times. You’re on the phone anyway, so why not respond to this Slack message that arrived quickly? But it doesn’t work. Too many people are running out and companies are losing large employees due to stress. Holidays should not be optional. I love hearing about my employees chasing items from their list during their vacation; a fire is lit under me to go chase those dreams too. Lighting this fire of emotion is a crucial step in helping your employees avoid exhaustion.