With a widespread concern about job burnout it is surprising that so many North Americans do not take full advantage of their vacation days. Employees in the USA get hit two ways. First, the USA has the most lax regulations in the developed world insisting on paid holidays for employees. The neglect on this front mirrors that re maternity leave. Second, employees in the USA make little use of those vacation days.

I had an opportunity recently to talk with Jillian Berman about her investigations of this phenomenon. She describes the current crisis in her Huffington Post article on vacation neglect.

Some of this behavior is driven by fear, some by a desire for control, some by a desire to fit into the corporate culture. Not all that much seems driven by a pure love of the job.

Although employers may feel pleased to have a steady supply of essentially free labor, they do pay a cost. Time away from work not only provides occasions for employees to recharge their energy. It also frees their minds to see the world from a different perspective. In an economy based on creativity and responsiveness, these qualities have great value.

To gain the most from their talent, employers need to insist that they take a break.

Maui Beach

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Increasing productivity is an admirable goal with a serious downside.

In the best sense, increasing productivity means working smarter that includes:

    • Training employees in more effective, efficient ways of working,

    • Enriching resources, such IT equipment or applications, that increase employees’ capabilities,

    • Eliminating wasteful activities, such as excessive paperwork or prolonged meetings.

Too often, pushes for increasing productivity have a not-so-smart foundation. Resources are diminished or work demands are increased without introducing any smarter ways of working. The anticipated productivity gain rests on hopes the employees will exert themselves more vigorously. The resource boost for increasing productivity comes from the individual employee rather than from the employer.

Diminishing resources is a risky strategy. It may be possible to inspire a workgroup to exert additional effort but is it more likely that people will resent such demands. Most people believe they are already working hard enough. As is clear from the graph below, the more people believe that their work demands exceed their resources, the more exhausted they feel. Exhausted employees are an unlikely source of extra effort.

Exhaustion by Demands

The challenge for leaders is to finding smarter ways of addressing resource constraints. Lacking smart solutions, leaders face serious, but not necessarily insurmountable, challenges in encouraging employees to buy into the new world order.

Posted in Areas of Worklife, Burnout, Change Management, Employee Engagement, Workgroups | Tagged , , | Leave a comment