Staff at Penn State Health have a new team member to help them destress.
Skye, a golden retriever, will wander the halls of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital to help employees relax.
The pup joins Penn State Children’s Hospital’s facility dog program and will work with her primary handler, Kelly Fuddy, the staff-assigned chaplain at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and secondary handler, Laura Ramsey, the staff-assigned chaplain in the Children’s Hospital.
Skye will work alongside Fuddy and Ramsey providing comfort and support to caregivers, including managing crises and helping staff who are dealing with stress and the after-effects of crises, while also helping to prevent potential problems like burnout and fatigue, Penn State Health said.
“Skye offers a comforting, non-judgmental presence to staff amidst the demands of their day. She elicits smiles wherever she goes just by being herself,” Fuddy said. “Caregivers need and deserve the kind of unconditional love she so expertly gives. Her visits encourage them to take a moment to pause and reset.”
Skye was raised by Canine Assistants in Georgia. Fuddy and Ramsey traveled to Georgia to meet Skye and learn how to integrate her into their daily tasks while maintaining a safe environment of care, Penn State Health said.
The Children’s Hospital became the first children’s hospital in Pennsylvania to establish a facility dog program in 2016 when its first employee, a golden retriever named Kaia, started on the job. Since its inception, Pilot, a black golden retriever and Captain, a golden retriever, have also joined the team. Kaia, Pilot, Captain are Skye are full-time employees of the Children’s Hospital who spend 40 hours a week on the job with their primary handlers, with time allowed for downtime, naps and walks.
The facility dog program is separate from the Pet Therapy Program, which continues to have a presence in both the Children’s Hospital and adult hospital. The two programs have different kinds of training and help patients in different ways, Penn State Health said.
Facility dogs get extensive training to work in a health care environment and provide emotional support, as well as learn specific tasks to help children cope with major and minor hospital procedures. Pet therapy dogs offer companionship as well as a calming and therapeutic influence for patients, the health system said.
Skye is joining Kaia, Pilot and Captain through a donation from JP and Teresa Bilbrey, who are providing funding for the purchase of Skye and an endowment to cover comprehensive support, including the cost of caring for Skye and her eventual retirement.
“When we learned that staff wellness is the focus of the newest facility dog, we were so moved to support it because we’ve been blessed to share meaningful and loving relationships with our own animals, and we know the importance of taking care of your team,” said JP Bilbrey.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society is looking for ways to help fill the void of health care workers which it says is creating long wait times for patients.
Dr. William Jackson, president, said the society has been advocating for physicians and good patient care for 175 years and the latest crisis is the shortage of health care workers across the board.
“The doctor shortage is real,” Jackson said pointing to physician burnout. “The problem is complex.”
Jackson explained that more than half of physicians practicing are older and with the pandemic, many retired or are planning to retire earlier than they had originally planned.
The pandemic isn’t the only thing contributing to burnout. Jackson said there is a lot more paperwork required, mostly linked to prior authorization for testing.
“The non-clinical workload has increased a lot over the past several years,” he said.
That “paperwork” includes the conversion to electronic health records. ‘
“A lot of these physicians didn’t grow up with a computer on their hip,” Jackson said. “So, it has been challenging to make sure all the documentation is there.”
Jackson said Medicare has strict rules about how documentation is done before authorizing treatment, so doctors have to be precise and thorough. Most commercial insurers, while not subject to federal rules, generally follow the Medicare protocols, he said.
“There is a lot more clicking to meet the criteria,” he said.
And while the state has expanded the number of medical school spots, the number of residency programs remain slim.
Jackson said residency programs are mostly funded through Medicare, so expanding the program comes from the federal level.
Couple that with the number of Baby Boomers who seek more medical care as they age, the demand for practitioners has increased.
The medical society, which recently celebrated its 175th anniversary in Harrisburg, has created a task force to look at ways to relieve overcrowding in hospital emergency departments which has reached a “critical mass,” he said.
The long wait times harms patient care and Jackson said the Medical Society is working with the state Department of Health and legislators to find a solution.
Part of the problem, he said, is that many people use the emergency department as their primary care facility. Even with the growth of urgent care facilities, Jackson said, often times, people don’t know when it is appropriate to use them or if they need hospital care.
The nursing shortage continues as well, and Jackson said he thinks it will be at least two years before any improvement will be seen. Even with the relatively new UPMC Shadyside School of Nursing at UPMC Harrisburg, a partnership between UPMC and Harrisburg University, and a variety of new programs to train nurses throughout the region, Jackson said it takes time to get trained.
“A year ago, we saw traveling nurses who commanded competitive salaries filling in,” he said. “I personally am not seeing as many now and there is still a shortage, which creates problems.”
Jackson said he thinks one solution would be to look for nurses trained in other countries and extend them visas.
“Of course, we’d have to make sure they are properly trained and qualified to practice here.”
Some systems are looking at nursing teams so nurses can work at their highest level of training. Jackson said there are a lot of team members in a hospital setting so with the wide range of skill sets, they can create a team approach.
In fact, Lehigh Valley Health Network created the team nursing model which put together experienced registered nurses (RN), new registered nurses and eventually, licensed practical nurses (LPN) during the pandemic. That program worked well and is still in use.
Jackson said Pennsylvania and insurers also need to improve the process of credentialing physicians.
“The system is slow and there are unnecessary delays to get physicians into the system. It could take up to six months,” he said.
One program that is helpful for Pennsylvania’s rural communities is the Pennsylvania Primary Care Loan Repayment Program through the state Department of Health.
The Department of Health provides loan repayment opportunities as an incentive to recruit and retain primary care practitioners willing to serve underserved Pennsylvania residents and to make a commitment to practicing in federally designated Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs).
Qualifying doctors can receive up to $80,000 for full-time work or up to $40,000 for half-time work, according to the Department of Health.
“The hope is that once the doctor is in practice, he will stay in the area,” Jackson said.
The current health care professional shortage is just the latest “crisis” the state Medical Society has worked through. Jackson said the 175th celebration on May 3 will showcase the work the society, one of the oldest in the country, has tackled.
“This is pretty notable,” Jackson said. “There have been huge changes and progress in medical care. When we started, smallpox was the big thing and that has been irradicated.
“Dysentery was big too and now we can diagnose and treat it quickly.”
In the 1950s, the Medical Society started the Safeguard Your Health campaign to increase awareness. And then there was the HMO revolution in the 1980s and 1990s, he said.
More recently, the prior authorization act was passed by former Gov. Tom Wolf, which made getting routine testing easier and faster.
“We’re not where we want to be, but we’re moving in the right direction,” Jackson said.
While employee burnout may have fueled much of The Great Resignation, it just left many employers feeling burned.
Pandemic pressures led to the worst of the resignations in the consumer, retail, healthcare, and education sectors, according to a 2022 study by McKinsey & Company. And those sectors continue to suffer as the remaining employees now endure the post-resignation burnout and employers struggle to properly grow or even maintain their employee base.
A tight labor market and the fading emphasis on gaps in the resume have reduced the stigma historically associated with frequent job-switching. While the prospect of an imminent recession (next year, maybe?) might reduce the risk of losing good talent in the coming year, now is as good a time as any to consider the sorts of benefits that business owners can provide to create meaningful value for their teams.
First, the Research
Yes, we will get to the investment and insurance-based retirement plan and benefit options that are so popular with financial advisors. But shouldn’t we first consult the research to better understand the value of these benefits relative to others in the eyes of your employees?
Among the top reasons why employees have been leaving their jobs without another in hand, according to that McKinsey report referenced earlier, are ‘uncaring leaders, unsustainable work performance expectations, lack of career development and advancement potential, and lack of support for employee health and well-being’.
You didn’t happen to notice anything about compensation or benefits there, did you?
Well, that’s because every one of those concerns ranked higher than ‘inadequate total compensation package’.
This isn’t to suggest that employee benefits are not meaningful (they certainly are, given that just shy of 30% of respondents to the survey referenced the ‘total compensation’ rationale for quitting), but rather that much else matters too.
But before we get there, can we talk about ‘lack of workplace flexibility’ which comes in with nearly equal relevance in the survey to the ‘compensation package’ concern?
What Would a Financial Advisor Know About PTO?
First, I know that the cost of retraining employees is astounding.
A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study from 2019 calculated the cost of a resignation to be roughly 1/3rd of that worker’s salary. Roughly 67% of that is due to soft costs like reduced productivity while the rest represents hard costs like recruiting and hiring temp workers.
Second, I manage a company of 23 advisors and 15 support staff, and I work with a multitude of business owners, managing their employee benefits with them. I can share, experientially, that some of the most meaningful changes that firms have made over this past year have been the least expensive, on a hard dollar basis.
This brings us back to that McKinsey study about ‘lack of workplace flexibility’, and, ultimately the question of PTO.
Like many employers over the past few years, we have implemented a ‘team centered attendance policy’ (also known as unlimited PTO, and this, among other changes, has contributed to a dramatically positive impact on workplace morale.
You can google your time away and find all of the risks inherent in a policy like this, but when imposed on the right kind of team in the right kind of workplace it can work wonders.
The correct implementation of ‘unlimited PTO’ can give employees a sense of freedom to take time when they need it, it can remove the burden imposed on employers to track various types of days off in complex PTO policies, and it can bring the team closer together by creating a sense of shared responsibility and a focus on results, rather than a focus on time spent doing a job.
And because this sort of policy often leads to employees taking less time off than they might otherwise, some firms have even gone so far as to require that employees take a mandated number of hours off a year to help reduce burnout.
And while we are talking about flexibility, let’s not overlook that whole ‘remote work’ thing. Honestly, why are you still fighting it?
Surely, you knew we’d get here. I mean, I am a financial planner, after all.
According to a 2020 workplace and wellness survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, “Seven in ten (70%) feel employees need their employer’s help to make sure they are healthy and financially secure. However, six in ten (62%) say it is the employer’s responsibility to do so.”
No compensation and benefits package is complete without consideration of retirement benefits.
While the traditional 401k is a perennial favorite given its remarkable savings caps (in 2023, $30k for those over age 50 and $22,500 for those under age 50), let’s not overlook the remarkable tax benefits inherent in the ROTH 401k.
Saving into a ROTH 401k offers participants the opportunity to pay their federal income taxes at today’s income tax rate and grow their retirement savings totally income tax free. Kind of a big deal (hence the italics).
Companies with an interest in simplicity and low-cost implementation might consider either a SEP IRA or a SIMPLE IRA.
The SEP IRA allows for considerable maximum savings, up to $66k in 2023, but all of that savings must come from the employer.
The SIMPLE IRA allows for employee savings in 2023 up to $19K for those over age 50 and $15,500 for those under age 50. These plans come with either a requisite match of up to 3% or a nonelective contribution of 2% of each eligible employee’s compensation.
A whole host of insurance-based benefits packages exist to meet a variety of intentions. An employer may want to focus on saving himself or the firm on taxes (think 412(e)(3) plans), or provide an insurance benefit for executives’ beneficiaries (think split-dollar plans), or even create a golden handcuffs-type arrangement for key employees (think nonqualified deferred compensation plans like SERPs or COLIs).
Creativity is key in retaining employees with benefits, and in a future column I will take some time to further flesh out those insurance-based employee benefit plans referenced above.
Anthony M. Conte is managing partner at Conte Wealth Advisors based in Camp Hill. He can be reached at [email protected].
Registered Representative Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research Inc., a broker/dealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advisor Representative Cambridge Investment Research Advisors Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Cambridge and Conte Wealth Advisors LLC are not affiliated.
Anthony M. Conte is managing partner at Conte Wealth Advisors based in Camp Hill. He can be reached at [email protected].
Although some reasons for the Great Resignation seemed obvious during the pandemic — people staying home to care for school-aged children or for loved ones who had fallen ill — just how much does burnout play a role in the vast numbers of people who continue to quit their jobs?
As several observers in Pennsylvania pointed out recently, the answer might depend on your definition of burnout.
“What is burnout? Is it a low-wage job that is just not worth it?” said Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, a research and policy development organization based in Harrisburg. “It’s definitely true that you have people who came to the conclusion that doing a low-paying job is not worth it to them anymore.”
In a recent study, Lensa, a job-search company based in West Chester, tried to get a handle on job burnout — analyzing the average working hours, annual salaries, commuting times and the number of Google searches for the word “burnout — and determined which states are the worst for employment burnout.
Pennsylvania was in the top 10, coming in at No. 8.
Texas ranked No. 1, and Illinois and Virginia tied at No. 9 behind the Keystone State.
Lensa said it looked at all 50 states, with each receiving a “burnout score.” In Pennsylvania, the score was 6.2 based on 38.42 working hours per week, an average salary of $66,000, a commute time of 27 minutes and 23,500 searches for the word “burnout.”
Several observers of the labor market in Pennsylvania said they don’t have specific data to back up how much burnout applies to resignations. But they say that low unemployment rates and high demand for workers continue to lead people to change jobs for numerous reasons that don’t always include money.
Sandra McPherson, an associate professor in the economics department at Millersville University, said that the so-called “quit rate” nationwide has been at about 2.7% recently, peaking last fall at about 3%. Before the pandemic, the quit rate was about 1.7%.
A Pew Research Center survey showed that workers cited pay as the No. 1 reason for quitting a job in 2021, McPherson said. But the top 10 reasons also include working too many hours, no flexibility with hours, no opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work. While she said those reasons indicate job-related stresses, she cautioned that she didn’t have enough data to suggest that those factors are tied to burnout.
“It depends on how you define burnout, but too many hours could be an indicator of burnout,” she said. Burnout also could be defined as “mental exasperation,” which could reflect the answers around feeling stuck and not respected, McPherson also said.
Not everyone sees the trends as bad.
For decades, employers had an advantage over workers, Herzenberg said. During the pandemic, people re-assessed whether working long hours for minimal rewards was worth it. Studies are showing that many people retired, while others sought better jobs with less stress that led to the job hopping that still is going on, he said.
“You can call it burnout. You can call it an ‘it’s-not-worth-it effect,” Herzenberg also said. “You can call it ‘take this job and shove it.’”
Over time, the dynamics might change, Herzenberg said. For one, some retirees might come back into the labor force and the number of available jobs might diminish, he added. But he sees the trends playing out as an overall positive for workers.
“I think the pandemic experience provides a bit of a corrective in the terms of workers realizing that some jobs aren’t worth it—‘if you want me to work for you, you have to pay me better, you have to treat me with more respect, you have to schedule me so I can deal with my family responsibilities,’” he said. “American employers could do a lot better with how they treat workers. Employers like to say that their workers are their best asset. But if people realized it is not worth going back to a crappy job with a crappy employer, that would be a healthy corrective.”
No end in sight
The national unemployment rate fell to a nearly historic low of 3.5% in the latest report released in early August, when it also was reported that employers continue to hire at a brisk pace. The industries who were having trouble before the pandemic—leisure and hospitality and retail—have struggled the most and likely will continue to do so, several experts said. McPherson cited statistics from the federal Bureau of Labor statistics that those are the industries with the highest quit rates, followed by social assistance and health care.
Healthcare has had difficulties because of the additional stresses caused by COVID-19, said McPherson and Jesse McCree, CEO of the South Central Workforce Development Board, or SCPa Works.
“Burnout is notoriously difficult to measure because it is imprecise—you kind of know it when you see it,” McCree said. “Overall, anecdotally, we are seeing that well-being, mental health, burnout, and stress are still big factors in the healthcare fields.”
Overall, there are not enough workers to go around in many different sectors, so some workers are being asked to do more, and that might lead to job hopping, said McCree, whose organization covers an eight-county region of Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lebanon, Juniata, Perry and York counties. In that region, the unemployment rate is about 3.29%, according to a report from SCPa Works. There still are two job openings for every person looking for work, which gives job seekers options, McCree said. Employers continually cite recruitment and retention as their main concerns, he added.
“Workers are not just looking for better wages but better working conditions and better schedules,” he said. “So maybe it’s not burnout but worker preference and choice.”
Job hopping will remain an issue for the foreseeable future, even with the economic headwinds this summer, such as high inflation, McCree suggested.
Another expert, Susan Graham of Susan Graham Consulting based in Camp Hill, specializes in placing people with backgrounds and skills in IT.Graham says she can clearly state that burnout is not an issue in her sector, which involves recruiting high level technical jobs, such as developers, programmers or project managers. Companies that hire this “cream of the crop” knew long before the pandemic that they must pay well but also must meet the work/home needs of these skilled employees or they will not stick around, she said.
“These employers don’t really have a choice. They understand that it is not all about money. It is about flexibility, No. 1,” Graham said, noting that things like dress codes in the IT fields went out long ago, too. “It is about working from home — work/life balance. I don’t see burnout. I see people saying they need flex time, they want to work a four-day work week, and things like that.”
Kendra Auker is president and CEO of the Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg. She oversees 2,000 employees, 1,600 of them women, and many of them in their child rearing years.
When COVID hit, Auker was worried. She knew some of her essential employees would choose to stay home to take care of young children learning remotely.
“We had to be more reasonable with our attendance policies,” she said. “We had to be more relaxed. Some schools didn’t let parents know if their children were going to be virtual or in-person until 7:40 a.m. that morning.”
Some 3 million women in the United States left the workforce during the pandemic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That includes an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 in the eight county south central Pennsylvania area.
“The labor force is as low as it has been in 33 years for women,” said Jesse McCree, CEO of South Central PA Works.
It’s largely because of issues with child care – either the day cares mothers counted on closed, or parents had to stay home with elementary school-age children learning remotely. Sixty percent of the stay at home parents were women.
“That’s a pretty big disconnect,” McCree said. “It’s even more concerning when we factor in diversity.”
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the percentage of white women in the workforce dropped by 5.2% between February 2020, the start of the pandemic, and December. For Black women, that figure was 9.5 percent and for Hispanic women, 8.3 percent.
That is why McCree has joined an informal group of agencies, educators and businesses trying to address the problem.
Laura Pottoff, director of the Cumberland County Economic Development Group, is spearheading the effort.
“Women have been overlooked in the workforce, and COVID has really brought it to life,” she said. “As the economic development agency for Cumberland County, we recognized gaps and needs to focus on workforce issues in our area. We pulled together stakeholders partners, including our major employers and educational institutions to begin this work. I am facilitating discussions with childcare entities, employers, and nonprofits to help advocate for change to support women in the workplace.
“Anyone interested in participating in these discussions are welcome to reach out and join our efforts to help with these critical issues,” she said.
Christy Renjilian, executive director of the nonprofit Child Care Consultants, said the situation particularly affected low-wage essential workers – the grocery store clerks, delivery people, home health aides, and other positions that were vital during COVID.
Those numbers include day care employees themselves, who make on average $9 to $11 an hour. Many day care centers closed at the beginning of the pandemic, either because of government mandates or because the costs of meeting safety guidelines were too high. According to one U.S. survey, one in four child care centers had closed as of December.
Those that reopened had trouble luring back employees who had to stay home with their remote learning children.
“I got a call from a nurse who said, “I need to be at the hospital. What do I do with my four kids,’” Renjilian said.
Some women shifted to a lower wage or part-time work for more flexibility, she said.
“For young families, child care is a significant part of their salary,” she said. “It behooves us as a community to figure out how we can support these families so kids can receive high quality care and parents can remain in the workforce or train.”
Searching for Solutions
Her agency has worked with employers on apprenticeship programs, job training and helping their employees find child care solutions.
“Businesses need to change their model,” she said.
Some have already taken those steps.
The Evangelical Community Hospital, aside from being more flexible in giving time off, partnered with the YMCA so parents could bring their children there to receive help with their remote learning. The hospital already had a priority arrangement for child care with a local provider.
PSECU opened an onsite child care center operated by Bright Horizons at its headquarters, which was able to remain open during the pandemic. It is used by 27 employee children and is also open to the general public.
“By keeping the doors open, we’ve been able to provide a valuable service to our local heroes that has allowed them to continue working – keeping us safe, making sure our grocery store shelves are well-stocked and caring for those in need of medical attention,” Barb Bowker, chief member experience officer at PSECU, saidduring an early learning economic summit.
The on-site center “makes life just a little easier and a little less stressful,” she said.
The Giant supermarket chain plans to open an on-site child care center in 2022 at its headquarters in Carlisle in conjunction with U-Gro Learning Centers.
Ashley Flower, public relations manager for Giant, said the company added 7,000 jobs in response to the pandemic demand for grocery services. It underscored the company’s need to be nimble and flexible regarding the workforce.
“After hearing from our own team members about the challenges they were facing, last year, in partnership with PA Key and The Hershey Company, we awarded $200,000 in grants to child care facilities,” she said. “And in January, we announced plans for a new U-Gro facility adjacent to our corporate campus, providing the Carlisle community, and likely many of our team members, with high quality childcare.”
President Biden has made child care a focus of his administration. On April 15, he announced the release of $39 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to address the child care crisis caused by COVID-19.
“These providers have been on the frontlines caring for the children of essential workers and support parents, especially mothers, who want to get back to work,” his administration said in a press release.
The gender wage gap is expected to increase by 5% due to the pandemic. As a result, “families with young children, and especially families of color where mothers are more likely to be sole or primary bread winners, may face financial burdens for years to come” it said.
Renjilian said she had not yet studied Biden’s proposals so couldn’t comment on them, but added “we have known for a long time we need more money for child care.”
The country puts public money into kindergarten to grade 12, but ignores the ages from birth to 5 when children’s brains develop most rapidly.
High quality childcare is “the best public money we could spend,” she said.
McCree, who also has not looked at the specifics of Biden’s plan, said Democrats and Republicans have both recognized the importance of good child care. He said it’s encouraging to see child care become a federal consideration.
The longer women remain out of the workforce, the longer it takes them to find new jobs, he said. They can also lose skills in the interim.
“Those who have the least are the most impacted,” he said. “It’s encouraging to see business leaders tackle this head on – figuring that investing in their workforce is an asset, not a liability.”
Auker said all organizers are going to have to take a look at child care if they want to be attractive as employers. That will be true even after the pandemic.
“This is a big issue for employers going forward,” she said.
But perhaps ditching the commute and “going to work” in your sweatpants isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Though there are advantages to the work-from-home lifestyle, sleeping and working in the environment can make finding a work-life balance more difficult.
If anything, it’s starting to stress Americans out. In a recent survey by Monster, a job search website, 51% of respondents admitted to experiencing burnout while working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
And that’s despite taking breaks for “self care” every day. In the same survey, 71% of respondents said they were stepping away from work for things like walks or spending time with family.
“The lines between work and non-work are blurring in new and unusual ways, and many employees who are working remotely for the first time are likely to struggle to preserve healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives,” wrote journalists Laura Giurge and Vanessa Bohns in the Harvard Business Review.
Vicki Salemi, a Monster career expert, told CNBC that the main culprit for burnout is a lack of structure and routine to your work day.
The World Health Organization warns of loneliness and isolation as a cause for experiencing spurts of depression while working from home.
There’s also the added stress of “proving” to your employer that you’re still working hard even while you work from home.
“There is still that, ‘I need to work while I’m making money now and also to show that I am a good employee so they keep me on,’” Melissa L. Whitson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Haven, told CNBC. “There is that added pressure onto it.”
Burnout is more than being stressed about a job. It can cause an array of mental and physical conditions, too, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline and more.
So how do we avoid it?
Be kind to yourself
It’s harder than it sounds.
“The first thing you should do is to be kind to yourself and know that the stress manifests itself differently in different people,” Whitson said.
Since you can’t change your external factors, try making internal shifts to improve your day. Make a list of three self-care activities you can revert to when you start to feel yourself mentally slipping throughout the day. Mine include yoga, playing the guitar and going on a run.
If you feel that “burnout” mentality creeping in, force yourself to do one thing on your list. I promise you, you will feel better.
Set office hours
Human beings like structure. Without it, it’s easy for us to feel lost, aimless and depressed throughout the day.
Implement office hours by silencing notifications and activating an “out-of-office” response outside of certain time blocks and set boundaries around your time.
It’s OK to respond to an email on Monday morning that you received at 6 p.m. on Friday. In fact, you’ll be happier because of it.
Take time off
It’s less tempting to take time off during a worldwide pandemic. It’s even less tempting when you’re “time off” will likely be spent at home… Where you’ve been working every day since March, if not longer.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Time off can refresh your mind and enthusiasm for your work. Even if you stay at home, you’ll be amazed by how much more relaxed you feel by not having to open your inbox at the start of the day.
Unplug. Turn off all notifications. Take a vacation at a safe distance. Treat yourself to takeout from your favorite restaurant. You deserve “you” time now more than ever.
Have a hobby
Most of us that are working from home are spending time on our computers all day, and that makes unwinding on our computers or other electronic devices after work less enticing.
Pick up a hobby that forces you to unplug. Try something that involves working with your hands and falling into a “flow” mindset. Knitting is a great way to zone out; so is running, playing music or any other hands-on activity you can think of.
Though these few “solutions” to avoiding (or curing) burnout may sound easy, it takes intentional thought to integrate these practices into your daily work-from-home lives.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. If you can relate with the “burnout” mentality, make the decision right now to take the necessary steps and precautions to improve your work-from-home lifestyle and mental wellbeing.
I am a little bit embarrassed to tell you that I took six weeks off. A six-week sabbatical with my husband – reading, writing, resting, reflecting, relaxing, drinking wine and coffee, enjoying the sunshine and some exercise, and sometimes doing nothing at all.
I am embarrassed because I recognize the rarity of taking this kind of time. Talking about it at all feels boastful and a bit millennial. Even as I type this, I can picture my step-dad rolling his eyes and wondering how on earth anyone can ride off into the sunset for six weeks and have a job to come back to at all.
And while I am incredibly grateful for a team that supported my request to tag along on my husband’s sabbatical, I don’t believe that my experience should be rare or embarrassing. We need to begin embracing a culture that supports this kind of time to disconnect. I have been more productive in the month since returning from my own sabbatical than I was in the previous six months combined and there is a slew of research which proves that time spent away from the office is good for individuals, for families, for the economy, and for business.
I spend most of my time at the office surrounded by well-being research and working with stressed out high-achievers juggling ever growing to-do lists. I’m sure they would all love nothing more than to take my advice and drive off for some fun in the sun.
However, most also feel a strong sense of responsibility toward the people who work for them, the boards to whom they report and the impact they would like to achieve. Many find these responsibilities incompatible with extended breaks. Vacation is viewed as a luxury, making both leadership and staff hesitant to use paid time off.
This is generally true across the country. Americans take significantly less vacation than the rest of the developed world. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four weeks of paid vacation each year, and the average worker in France takes 30 days annually. Europe recognizes a value in vacation that we have not yet embraced. Here, where the average private sector worker earns just 16 paid vacation and holidays per year, individuals are using less and less of their allocated time over the last 15 years.
According to a study by Project: Time Off, in 2015 over half of working Americans with paid vacation did not use it all. This cultural tone is often set at the very top. According to Emma Seppala of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism, 84 percent of executives in the U.S. report having cancelled vacations in order to work.
Unfortunately, this “always-on” mentality may be doing more harm than good. In addition to increasing rates of individual stress, burnout and strain on families, unused vacation time costs U.S. businesses $224 billion annually, and can unintentionally reduce overall productivity itself.
‘Take a vacation’
As I have studied workplace well-being, I have seen more and more research pointing to the benefits of time off, not only for the individual, but as an essential foundation for many of the highest-performing organizations. The research reveals that time spent away and disconnected from the office, leads to increases in dedication, enthusiasm, performance, stamina and creativity, as well as improved health (and thus fewer future absences). Our now largely knowledge-based economy requires this type of clear, energized and creative mind. Success in this type of economy is fueled by the very things that vacation provides.
A study featured in the Harvard Business Review in 2016 came to this same conclusion. According to the author, “statistically, taking more vacation results in greater success at work as well as lower stress and more happiness at work and home.”
In fact, the report found that workers who took more than 10 days of their vacation allowance per year, compared with those who took less than 10, were more than 30 percent more likely to receive a raise or bonus within a three-year period. Other research utilizing brain imaging has found that doing nothing for a period of time increases alpha waves in the brain that are necessary for creativity, insight and innovation. In another study of 13,000 middle-aged men, those who skipped vacation for five consecutive years were 30 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who took at least one week per year.
A separate study of working fathers found that 37 percent of them would consider taking a new job with less pay if it offered more work-life balance. Thus, organizations that value vacation are likely to benefit through lower turnover rates, fewer absences, and increased innovation, all of which positively impact the bottom line.
Take the time
My advice? Take a vacation. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be whatever sounds restful and meaningful to you. Go camping, travel, visit family or friends, sit on the beach, or run a marathon. But turn off your phone, put an away message on your email, and disconnect from your everyday patterns. Rest. Read. Write. Move. Sit. Recover. And come back rejuvenated, energized and passionate for the work that you do.
If you are a CEO, owner or manager, spend time intentionally crafting wise PTO policies that prioritize rest and recovery. Show your teams that you value this time and set the cultural tone by using the policies yourself. Come back with fresh eyes and new ideas. You won’t regret it, and neither will your organization.
Kate Coleman is an associate at Work Wisdom LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster. She focuses on preventing and managing stress, burnout and compassion fatigue. She can be reached at [email protected].
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