As a leader, your words and actions set the tone for your workplace culture, including expectations around boundaries, working hours, communication styles, and even well-being. So if you’re not encouraging teammates to unplug –– or better yet –– demonstrating that behavior yourself, you might be setting the tone for a culture of exhaustion and burnout.
“We know that there are lots of benefits to taking regular breaks,” Arthur Markman, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, tells Thrive. “Not only does it improve your overall resilience, but it can improve your focus and concentration, and can give you a new perspective by allowing yourself to walk away from a problem and come back to it after taking some time.” Markman points out that encouraging breaks can even benefit the company’s bottom line. “As leaders, we want our employees to be effective for years, and for them to feel like their work is both energizing and sustainable,” he explains. “Success is a marathon, not a sprint.”
If you need some help encouraging your team to unplug and recharge, try these strategies:
Don’t be afraid to walk the walk.
If you want to set the tone for healthy boundaries and a sustainable work ethic, you have to practice those behaviors yourself. “As a manager, one of the most important things to remember in general is that in everything you do, there’s what you say, what you do, and what you reward,” Markman says. Because the truth is, employees are watching their managers’ behavior –– so “if you’re sending emails at 2:00 in the morning and working on weekends, you’re telling employees the opposite of what you’re practicing.”
Be mindful of the behaviors you’re rewarding.
As a manager, it’s tempting to reward teammates who raise their hands for every task. And while we should be celebrating those who go above and beyond, we shouldn’t be oblivious to what they’re sacrificing in the meantime. “If you consistently give promotions and raises to people who are working all the time as opposed to the people who are making sure that they’re getting some downtime, you’re rewarding employees for being ‘on’ all the time,” Markman says –– so try to be intentional about rewarding healthy boundaries instead of overwork. If you notice a pattern where an individual is always online and always saying “yes,” instead of jumping to applaud that behavior, ask them if they feel they have the bandwidth for what they’re taking on right now, and how they’re taking time to recharge as well.
Urge employees to take PTO, but also check in regularly.
Markman points out that there are two levels of breaks: your company’s PTO policy, and then microbreaks during the workweek –– and it’s important that we’re urging employees to embrace both. “Doing what you can to talk to people about the importance of taking at least a week off every now and again to really get away is crucial,” he says, “So if employees are hesitant about taking their PTO, sit down with them and help them map out when would be a good time to take time off.” And don’t be afraid to check in regularly and ask what employees are doing to recharge on a daily basis, whether that’s taking walks in between meetings, or declaring a real end to their workday so they can unplug after hours. “You can even mention different ways you’ve been taking breaks in your own life,” Markman adds. “Make employees comfortable with the idea of setting boundaries.”
Help teammates prioritize if they feel they can’t take a break.
Oftentimes, teammates can feel overwhelmed if they have a lot on their plate, and they might feel like they can’t take a break without falling behind. As a manager, make it part of your routine to check in with your direct reports and help them prioritize if they feel this way. “People who are particularly ambitious or good at their jobs end up getting loaded up with additional tasks,” Markman says. “And you may not have noticed how overloaded they’ve gotten.” To course correct, use your next 1:1 to ask individuals what they’re working on right now, and what can be put on hold or delegated elsewhere. There might be tasks that could be taken off their plate, or recurring meetings on their calendar that are taking up too much of their time. “Rather than just getting updates on projects as they come, sit down and really look at their entire workload,” he adds. “And do this on a quarterly basis, so that unnecessary tasks don’t build up over time.”