‘It’s even more important to recharge, to reconnect with family without the distractions of work because the boundaries between home life and work life have blurred’
Many employees didn’t use up their entire allocation of vacation time in 2020 and, as a result, a number of employers are altering policies so that more earned time off can be used in 2021.
Canadians took about 40 per cent less vacation time last year, according to HR software company Humi, and the numbers are cause for concern.
“Vacation time is always important to maintain healthy work-life balance but especially in a pandemic environment, it’s even more important to be able to take time to recharge, to take time to reconnect with family without the distractions of work because the boundaries between home life and work life have become blurred,” says Andrea Bartlett, director of HR at Humi in Toronto. “It’s important not only for overall better balance but also for preventing burnout.”
To compel workers to take vacations, Humi found that a substantial portion of client companies are changing their policies, says Bartlett.
“Forty per cent of Humi clients are changing their time-off policy to allow employees to be able to take missed vacation in 2021.”
Time allocated to new carry-overs are averaging five days and the carryover expiry period has been extended by an average of four months, she says.
“Another driver of that is employees who are having conversations about vacation and because of the pandemic they are more open and communicating more what their needs are and what they need in order to be happy and to be motivated.”
However, December’s numbers showed a positive trend over 2019 figures, according to Bartlett.
“We did see an increase over the month of December and we found that people took only 25 per cent less time off,” she says, and a big reason is with year-end, people generally take more time off over the holidays to spend time with family.
Canadian HR Reporter spoke with a legal expert to discuss vacation issues during a pandemic, such as when they should be mandatory and what are the rules around carryover.
Avoiding employee burnout is first accomplished by recognizing the signs, says Bartlett.
“We’re encouraging people to understand absenteeism and presenteeism on either end of the spectrum: people being less present than what they were versus people that are overly available. There’s signs and concerns with both: reduced quality or quantity of work compared to what is the norm, repeatedly missing deadlines, confusion or forgetfulness, withdrawal or avoiding meetings.”
There are a number of signs that indicate someone is suffering, she says, and it’s crucial managers spot the differences in behaviour.
“It can be as simple as not accepting meetings or someone who historically was on camera and not on mute in conversations and now is repeatedly not as able to participate. [Also] changes in appearance and those can be subtle; irritability or anger; and also, within the team and with colleagues, inappropriate behaviour, negative attitude, excessive fear.”
A four-step plan is key in addressing employee burnout, says Bartlett, and that begins with identifying a problem, tracking its progress and then consulting with other colleagues.
“The final step, depending on the severity, is meeting with the employee. Depending on the type of work, [with] essential services [employees], you might be able to have a conversation in person but an organization that’s fully remote because of COVID, we’re conducting these conversations over video.”
For HR departments, it’s important to “have a conversation about the importance of taking time off to avoid burnout and to maintain employee health and well-being [which] is certainly a big focus for 2021 and in a post-pandemic environment,” says Bartlett.
“The pandemic has been challenging for everybody in very different ways, and making sure that people are taking care of themselves and that managers are having the conversation about health and well-being, that HR managers are championing that conversation helps to alleviate some of the stigma that exists around mental health and wellness in the workplace.”
Overall, mental health in Canada is at its lowest level since April, according to a recent report from Morneau Shepell.