The value of taking space

Nicole McNeill, MPAC President and Chief Administrative OfficerI’ll admit it: I’ve never felt prolonged burnout like I have this year.

Sure, I know what it means to be busy. We’ve all worked crazy hours leading up to big presentations, put our foot on the accelerator before planned time off, or hit a “hectic time of year.” But at no point did taking even a short period of rest feel so profoundly necessary as it has recently. 

The stresses of the pandemic, coupled with our “always-on” culture of ambition, are taking a toll. And business leaders need to be willing to talk about it. 

When I ask executives to stand in for me during meetings, I’m transparent about why. I want to reinforce that we aren’t automaton robots, with endless reservoirs of energy. As a president, I know I must model the kind of emotional honesty I want to inscribe into our company. 

After all, business culture doesn’t make it easy to ask for time off, and we all know it. 

Looking back to earlier in my career, I remember the guilt – dare I say, shame - that accompanied a vacation request. I felt like I was somehow letting my team down. That balls would get dropped in my absence, and I’d be culpable. 

It’s a common story. 

According to a 2020 article by HR Reporter, 50% of employees express hesitancy about taking time away from work, and 54% of Canadians feel vacation-deprived. Any number of personal factors may prevent employees from taking time, but “vacation shame” needs to be shown the door. Especially now.

At MPAC, we show our commitment to safeguarding our employees’ mental health by 

  • Having a company-wide wellness day
  • Offering a regular roster of speakers and webinars on mental health – during work hours
  • Creating a company policy of introducing breaks in between meetings 
  • Encouraging a limit on “after hour” emails 
  • Providing flexible work options on an individual basis, and encouraging staff to talk to their manager or HR to ensure their needs are being considered 
  • And finally, asking ourselves if projects that push past reasonable work hours are really worthwhile. 

Businesses that introduce wellness initiatives make it easier for their employees to thrive, rather than survive. And good mental health means good business. 

Burnout contains a slew of attendant issues, including disengagement, high turnover rates, and lower overall productivity. Couple that with the fact that 70% of disability payments stem from reasons of mental health, and vacation time proves itself to be a good investment. 

But we also need to prioritize our individual needs.

As a natural caretaker, it took years for me to learn to “put my own mask on first.” If I can’t function, I can’t lead. This summer, I’m going to plan to take a couple of weeks at a time (instead of a long weekend, or a day here and there). What’s more, I’ll encourage my team to do the same.

After everything we’ve been through in the past year, the very least we can do is give ourselves, and our people, real time to rest, regroup and recharge. 

After all, if your tank is already empty, you’ll never be able to go that extra mile. 

Statistics Source: Robert Half, Canada Life, Expedia

Related Links