A strange thing occurs at quite a few startups these days. I hear managers or founders say it's okay to turn off email after work and enjoy the evenings. But, team members, even the managers themselves, simply don't listen.
Instead, they dutifully click on that email or chat notification right when it chimes. They stay available at all hours. They scramble to be the first to arrive in the office, or the last to leave, and brag about working weekends.
Why do we do this? It's partially due to the toxic "hustle culture," and partially to competitive ambitions. According to the U.S. Travel Associations 2018 State of American Travel report, more than 705 million vacation days went unused in the prior year. This demonstrates clearly the uphill battle we have as a culture to embrace more off time.
Overwork can cost your company in lost productivity, increased burnout, and more work hours lost over the long term as employees are forced into taking sick leave. Some may even dread returning to the workplace and look for any excuse to stay away.
The better alternative is to create a culture that rewards wellness and efficiency, rather than constant busy work. And how do you convince your hardworking hustlers to take time off? Try these three strategies.
1. Reframe overwork as a negative trait.
One small business owner I know says that continuing to work after hours and on weekends simply means you couldn't get your job done during normal business hours. Reframing the habit of arriving early and staying late can help shift the mindset of your workers towards encouraging a healthier approach.
Behind the "busy is good" mindset is the idea that a to-do list as a finite thing that can be completed. But this is flawed since there's always something else to do or pursue. So, spending fifty or more hours a week at the office and never taking a vacation isn't really a laudable trait. It's more like a failure of perception.
2. Understand why regular breaks are essential, and share that knowledge.
It's absolutely fine-- crucial, even-- to embrace the continual chaotic cycle of work and business. That's just the reality of our business culture these days. However, we also need to recognize why everyone involved in that dance needs a thorough break from that routine on a daily, weekly, and annual basis.
To convince your employees of this, understand the psychology and physiology of stress, overwork, and what they do to a persons well-being and productivity. Frame your new policy shift in terms of these facts.
Longer breaks and vacations are crucial too. They give us a chance to decompress, indulge our curiosity and try new things, all of which help stoke creativity and productivity upon our return to the workplace.
3. Adopt new policies to support a healthier work culture.
Don't simply talk a good game when it comes to overwork. Make a healthier attitude towards breaks and vacation part of your formal corporate policies. Enshrining new policies in your employee handbook or executive memoranda brings the point home to reluctant workers in a way that simply saying "take a break" wont.
There are many ways you can accomplish this policy shift. For example, you can adopt a policy that constrains the accumulation of paid time off. You can also require employees to take some time off while making that process fun for them. Try partnering with travel agencies to make vacation planning easier. You might even decide to offer bonuses to employees who commit to traveling during vacation, as SteelHouse CEO Mark Douglas does.
Finally, consider making reasonable work hours and regular vacations part of your annual review process. This will give you a chance to explain to workers why your company values regular time off and reasonable work schedules.
Change requires a new mindset.
Ultimately, getting team memebrs to actually stop working when they're not in the office takes structural and attitude changes. Let workers know they shouldn't always need extra time to complete projects. Encourage little breaks during the day and big breaks for vacation. And, make actual changes to company policies. You may soon encounter more refreshed, healthy employees ready to take on their work.