Did you know that Americans take less vacation than any other country in the Western world? It’s true. While the Spanish take their siestas and the Austrians unwind with a month’s worth of holiday time, many business people in the United States don’t take lunch breaks, let alone a vacation.
This American work ethic is something to be admired: we work hard, wear ambition on our sleeves and have built and run some of the most profitable and innovative companies in the world. But even the savviest businesspeople know that downtime is a key part of maintaining an achievement-oriented culture. In fact, the right amount of downtime increases productivity rather than reducing it.
This may seem a bit counterintuitive, like saying that eating less will make you gain weight or shopping more will help you save money. Productivity isn’t a formula as much as it is a living, breathing organism that needs both rest and energy to thrive.
Here are five ways that downtime can increase productivity, and how to utilize it in your place of work to get the most out of your employees.
1. Don’t stress out your employees
The ill-effects of stress are well-documented. Health, mood, and mental state are all negatively impacted by stress, and a happy, healthy worker of sound mind will always out-perform a frustrated, sick and sad one. According to research by professional services firm Towers Watson, stressed employees report lower engagement levels higher instances of absenteeism, two clear signs of poor productivity.
Without downtime, workplace stress builds up and can become also incredibly costly: It’s estimated that American companies lose roughly $300 billion a year in health costs, absenteeism and poor performance.
2. Pay attention to hours worked
Businesses that believe that having employees work overtime, without pay, is an asset to the company may be mistaken. Research indicates that employee output drops sharply after the 50-hour per week mark, and that those working 70 hours contribute very little more than those working 55. Long hours also associated with higher instances of mental illness, strokes and heart disease.
What’s the perfect, most productive workweek? This has been under debate for a while, and many have argued for the benefits of a six-hour workday or four-day workweek. The truth is that it’s different for everyone. American work culture is distinct from Europe’s, so we’re unlikely to get that three-day weekend anytime soon. Stil, simply making sure employees have reasonable hours around the 40-hour mark will get more out of them. Plus, you’ll save money on overtime expenses like electricity.
3. Encourage vacations & lunch breaks
It’s hard to get Americans to take vacations; only half of those with paid time off use the full extent of their vacation days. There’s no clear reason why, but it’s hypothesized that heavy workload and competitiveness have something to do with it. But taking a vacation is good for productivity and the economy — we should not be stigmatizing it or making it impossible.
Likewise, the lunch break has dwindled, with just one in five workers taking steps from their desk for a midday meal. Lunch breaks are important, because changing environment, even for a few minutes, stimulates creativity and innovation. This is a great form of downtime to encourage within company culture.
4. Don’t settle for inadequate staffing
One of the top reasons American workers get stressed is inadequate staffing; this also a major reason they decline to take vacation. Your staff will naturally get more downtime if you can distribute the workload more equally and appropriately among them; they will feel more comfortable taking breaks, leaving on time, and taking those PTO days without remorse.
The last thing you want is for employees to burnout. Considering the high cost of stress, having a larger staff could save money in the long run.
5. Unplug after hours
Another form of downtime employers might not consider is technological downtime. Many employees feel stressed because their connection to the workplace is always present, like a ghost haunting their devices, even if they are on vacation or at home with their families.
Expecting employees to be on-call at all times can be counter-productive and stress-inducing. Obviously, some industries truly do require on-call work. For those that don’t, consider having separate work phones and computers, and allowing employees to “unplug” when they aren’t on the clock.
All things considered, the upside the downtime seems pretty clear. And bosses, remember: this goes for you, too.