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Tackling employee burnout: Are more days off really the best strategy?

The TUC has called on the UK government to introduce additional bank holidays in England. But while some support this idea, others are questioning whether it’s really the best approach to giving employees more free time by tackling employee burnout in England.

The pros and cons of the TUC’s plan

With stress at record highs and engagement at disturbing lows the world over in the wake of a difficult and unpredictable couple of years, tackling employee burnout is one of the most pressing concerns for businesses. That’s why the plan to introduce four additional bank holidays in England was recently put forward by TUC’s General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, for government consideration, although it has been met with a mixed response.

So, do bank holidays reduce burnout effectively, or is there a better way to deal with mounting job stress in your company than implementing more government-mandated holidays?

The positives: Creating more bank holidays in England would certainly benefit a lot of people. As things are, Employees in England only get eight bank holidays a year, putting them behind the EU average, and even behind Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  • Many employees would get more time off: We could argue back and forth all day about whether English employees are taking enough time off work. But the fact is, burnout is on the increase. In fact, Indeed has found that more than half of employees are suffering from burnout in 2021, compared to 43% pre-COVID.
  • Managers couldn’t pressure employees to work it: While presenteeism is often used to describe people showing up for work while ill, it can also refer to people not taking their allotted holiday. Particularly in high-pressure businesses, employees can feel obligated not to take holiday, for fear of letting down colleagues or being seen as lacking commitment.

    Bank holidays obligate many businesses to close their doors, ensuring that workers get a certain amount of time off with no questions asked.
  • Regular additional leave is important for curbing burnout: Burnout is on the rise for UK workers. Last year, a study of 2,000 UK office workers found that most employees need additional time off every 43 days or so to avoid burnout. When made to work long periods of time without an extended break, 70% of employees experienced significant fatigue.
  • It would put us on par with the EU average: With all the COVID madness, it’s almost possible to forget that Britain left the EU not too long ago. With 42% of UK employees experiencing significant job stress, and only 11% being engaged in their roles according to Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace Report, bringing England up to par with our EU neighbours would be a nice morale boost.

The negatives: While many English workers could benefit from more bank holidays, they’re by no means a perfect solution for tackling employee burnout. While they’re a boon for stressed-out employees, they can inconvenience some sectors while not being applied to others at all.

  • Not all job sectors benefit from bank holidays: While bank holidays can work wonders for people in white collar office jobs, they don’t apply universally. While some customer service businesses may close or have reduced hours on bank holidays, the massive influx of people with free time makes them very lucrative for retail and hospitality, meaning that many stay open. So, as a result, one employee’s break becomes another’s busiest day of the week.
  • It may interfere with businesses and the economy: Although bank holidays are great for stimulating retail and hospitality sectors, they can bring other types of businesses grinding to a halt. At a time when Britain’s future economic success is far from guaranteed, it’s understandable why some business owners would be nervous about this prospect.
  • New bank holidays might cause confusion: Have you ever woken up in an icy cold panic because you’re late for work, only to be stumbling out the door still with bed-head when you realise you’re not in today?

    It’s easy to forget to keep track of bank holidays, and you could argue that throwing more into the mix would throw people for a loop. While it shouldn’t be the deciding factor by any means, introducing new bank holidays is probably going to make a few of us look quite silly when they actually roll around.

Alternative ways of tackling employee burnout

Now that we’ve been through the pros and cons, it’s time to look at other methods of tackling employee burnout in England, as well as the rest of the UK:

  • Doing nothing: Sometimes, doing nothing is the best plan. While it’s true that employees are stressed out, burned out and disengaged, that’s in large part due to recent events. With things returning to normal, perhaps it’s simply a matter of waiting for people to settle back into their regular schedules.
  • 4-day work weeks: The concept of the 4-day work week has been steadily gaining traction over the past couple of years. Since the trial using 1% of Iceland’s working population was a huge success, the Scottish Government is now looking to follow suit with the support of nine tenths of its employed population. If the UK followed suit, it would give English employees far more time for work/life balance than a mere 4 days of bank holiday.
  • Whole weeks off: Following the results of a study that showed working more than 55 hours a week increases the risk of a stroke or death from heart disease, LinkedIn, Bumble and several other high-profile companies have given employees a whole week of paid time off, to a very positive reception.
  • Empathetic people management: But finally, maybe it’s not an issue of time off at all. It could be an issue of simply managing employees more effectively. Setting manageable goals for employees and not piling too many on at once makes it easier for employees to engage effectively.

    If better workload management can result in more reasonable task allocation per employee, it stands to reason that job stress would be mitigated, meaning that more time off might not be necessary in the first place.

Introducing regular cycles of employee feedback, where staff are encouraged to share frank and honest feedback about their working experiences can also work wonders. Providing managers and leadership listen and take appropriate action where needed, simply asking your people a few well-designed questions at a regular cadence has been shown to reduce workplace stresses and minimise the risk of burnout.

Whilst on paper, ideas like more days off sound like a quick fix solution towards reducing employee burnout, perhaps we should be looking at a more lasting cultural change for managers and leaders. It may take a little more time to implement but the effects are shown to last.

Want to see how a simple habit-forming employee check-in can help improve employee wellbeing? Check out a quick intro to Weekly10…