Myth: paid time off cures burnout

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In the past twelve months, the global media has done an exceptional job of glorifying companies that have gifted their employees with paid time off (PTO) to curb burnout and improve mental health and wellbeing. Business leaders who have not yet followed suit have surely felt the urge to, as their peers and role models flaunt their generous gestures and press mentions.
Nike, Bumble, Mailchimp, Facebook have given employees paid time off (PTO) to curb burnout.

Companies giving bonus PTO
2020-2021 examples. List not exhaustive.

Nike, Google, Bumble, HubSpot, Facebook have given employees paid time off (PTO) to curb burnout.

References: Download report to access full reference list.

What the evidence says

PTO can set the tone for a more balanced and healthier workplace, but it is a band-aid for burnout, not a cure. Burnout is a multifaceted, multidimensional issue that can rarely be solved with short bursts of time off work – employer-funded or otherwise.

Definition of burnout

“Burnout refers to the physical and emotional erosion that an employee can experience when they feel regularly unsatisfied, powerless and overwhelmed at work.” It is “an occupational phenomenon… resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

Causes of burnout

Originally attributed to only work factors, there are now multiple studies attributing burnout to both work and personality factors. These tables share examples of work and personality factors which can contribute to burnout.

Burnout risk factors. Work (organisational) factors can contribute to employee burnout.
Burnout risk factors. Personality (individual) factors can contribute to employee burnout.

References: Download report to access full reference list.


Reducing burnout

The phenomenon of burnout is commonly a sign of deeply entrenched issues in the workplace. Until every risk factor is addressed, and sustainable, supportive and protective systems put in place, any claim that burnout has been cured will likely be one-dimensional and premature.

References: Yonsei Medical Journal, International Review of Management and Marketing, The Urban Review, Infinite Potential, Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health

The “disconnect disconnect”

Last year, Deloitte published a deep dive into the disconnect between time-off policies and the culture around using them. Despite generous and sometimes unlimited vacation policies, workers are resisting taking time off to disconnect, hence Deloitte’s term, the “disconnect disconnect”.

Reasons cited include “the inability to travel, difficulty justifying time off in a work-from-home environment, and especially, fear of taking time off in an unstable job market”. Deloitte also blamed a constantly connected, “work martyr culture”.

Rather than focus on random PTO, Deloitte suggested employers should instead put the “P” back in PTO, in terms of permission, prioritisation and persistence in ongoing campaigns to encourage and empower workers to regularly rest and recharge.

Want to learn more?

This post is an excerpt from our evidence-based report: 5 myths of employee wellbeing. To read more from the report, please click here.

For more information about how Sonder can help you rethink your workplace support, we invite you to contact us here.

About Sonder

Sonder is a leading Australian wellbeing and safety company accredited by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS). Our solution is a technology-driven platform supported by 24/7 safety, medical, and mental health experts. This is backed up by a physical responder network that can be onsite quickly for complex scenarios, plus a capability to deliver unique and timely data insights which drive meaningful business decisions.

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