Can You Take A Break From Work When You Need One?

Can You Take A Break From Work When You Need One?


— Lifestyle Consultant

Not everyone who has downloaded 22 Surefire Ways to Boost Employee Engagement works for a big corporation and is looking to engage hundreds of people. Some of my readers are self-employed, and they are looking to engage… themselves.

These folks don’t need to call a council meeting to find out what’s dragging them down. Nor are they afraid to tell it like it is to their boss—themselves. Yet their needs are not that different from those of other worker-bees. For example, this Lifestyle Consultant is craving balance.

So, here’s a thought for all of you listicle-mongers on the quest for employee engagement. What about balance? Could it be the missing link? Can it help at least some of us work like we mean it?

Why not? It seems as though people who have balance in their lives don’t resent their work. They don’t do a half-ass job and leave it to the manager to fix it. They have room for passion, meaning, and growth.

Unfortunately, balance is rare. Instead, companies are full of desperate, unbalanced managers and employees—which must be the reason that even our Lifestyle Consultant is so busy she has to put her lifestyle on hold.

Sure, Tim. Balance is nice. And it’s popular with the Millennials. But is it something a company can take on, on behalf of its employees?

I think the answer is yes. It can, and it must.

But first, some clarity on the word “balance.” At work, it can mean anything from eating lunch to handling your emotions. When we say we need balance, do we mean a balance between job and family? Between creativity and productivity? Between work and play?

If you answered “all of the above,” you are correct. If you needed a reliable car, you wouldn’t maintain some parts, but not the others. Similarly, the secret to employee engagement is, plain and simple, working with the whole person.

It’s a big topic, and I won’t be able to cover it all here. If you want to look at all the moving pieces of the company-manager-employee relationship, I’d like to refer you to my book, Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? I wrote it to explain all the sources of employee unhappiness and disengagement. And if you’re struggling with a particular challenge, you’ll likely find the answer there.

In the meantime, let’s talk about the most basic, common, and obvious imbalance in our work lives. And that is the imbalance between work and rest. In the book, I go into all sorts of work-rest cycles in Chapter 24, Give Them a Break. Most people already have a good understanding of one or two. But if true balance is a goal of yours—for yourself, your reports, or even your entire company—I encourage you to read and think through all the work cycles we experience in our lives. Again, there’s not enough room here to do it complete justice, but this article will get you started.

Let me say right away that the problem is not how many hours you work. You could work eighty hours a week and feel great. Or you could work twenty and be miserable. Here’s what’s important: can you take a break from work when you need one?

By the way, I am not talking about family emergencies—that goes without saying. Rather, I am interested in the times when you feel depleted. Physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Do you even allow yourself to feel depleted? And if so, do you know what you need to feel whole again? Is it a stretch? A walk? A nap? A day off? How about a two-week vacation? Or a six-month sabbatical to rediscover your purpose?

Most of us assume we can somehow ignore or delay our urges. Not only do we believe ourselves capable of fooling our survival instincts, but also obligated to do so by our work contracts. Of course, when we do that, our need for a break doesn’t go anywhere. Instead, work becomes something that goes against our nature. Until we never want to go to work anymore. Hmm… what do you call that again?

Yet, the people who live and die by their ability to perform at full capacity never flat-out deny themselves. One mother of eight, for example, goes to bed whenever she’s feeling angry and fed up. No passing the blame. No playing the martyr. No matter the time of day. She always makes sure she gets at least some rest before attempting to solve any problems.

Another example is a manager of a small dance company. Every year he gets stuck with fitting all the costumes for the upcoming season. For the last year’s production of the Nutcracker, he sewed 1,200 individual costume pieces. He gets through it by watching reruns of Friends while working late into the night, every night. Naps are not his thing, but he has found an alternative. The sitcom helps him put to sleep the anxious and judgmental part of the brain—the one that a lot of us tend to overwork—so he can focus on the task he already knows how to do.

Both of these individuals accomplish insane amounts of work by knowing when and how to take breaks. For the rest of us, it may not be as easy as it sounds. For one, the pressure we feel at work often overshadows all other feelings. Two, we won’t ask for what we need, unless others around us have it. That’s how a yoga mat in your cubicle becomes a question of workplace culture. Either employees feel safe and supported in their search for balance—or they don’t.

As managers, we are taught to look after work results, and let people figure out on their own how to rest. And yet the best managers seem to do the opposite. They train their people to take care of themselves and trust them to get their work done.

One of my friends has built a fantastic company out of a dusty ceramics shop in a crime-ridden neighborhood. She has never guilted anyone into coming to work. But she did force her employees to take paid summer and winter vacations, threw birthday parties for their kids, and even bought plane tickets to send her employees on a surprise getaway. She completely changed the way I think about running a business and about employee engagement.

She was not the first employer to make sure her people got the rest they needed. Nor are generosity and trust limited to the quirky small businesses. In 1958, IBM became the first large-scale manufacturer to replace hourly wages with salaries for its entire workforce. The CEO, Thomas Watson, Jr., had a similar idea: he wanted his people to take breaks and vacations without the fear of losing their income.

Back in the fifties, they didn’t have iPhones and iPads to keep them glued to the screen around the clock. Today some tech companies have to teach their people how to relax and stop burning their eyes and ruining their posture. Some use standing desks. Others invest in window offices. Yet others collect handheld devices before sending employees home to rest.

Here’s an employee-engagement idea anyone can use. Ask your employees what would help them feel less stressed and burnt out. Will your company be able to afford the solution? You can always start with something small. But the fact that you’re looking out for your people will change everything.

If you want balance in your life and work, you might like my book, because it will help you take the unnecessary struggle out of both.

Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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