Giving employees options for how to de-stress is better for preventing burnout

If you’re not a fan of HR blogs, you might not have heard of this year’s supposed hot workplace trend: proactive rest. This can mean a variety of different things, but it essentially boils down to employers trying to give their employees some kind of break before they burn out.

The concept seems to be more popular in the US, where there is no statutory requirement for employers to provide paid leave (although in practice, the average US employee receives 11 paid vacation days per year). And while an enforced company-wide day off is one of the strategies suggested as a way to help employees decompress, many suggested activities provide relief in much smaller chunks – whether that’s having meeting-free days, promoting mindfulness activities, or encouraging employees to take short breaks throughout the day.

I’ve never been a fan of such activities when they are mandatory. While I appreciate the intention behind them, removing the freedom you have to manage your own time means they can prove unnecessarily disruptive. I’d never refuse an extra day off when offered one. But I’d rather choose when to take that break, as some days are more convenient than others – either to fit in with the plans of other family members, or to avoid particularly tight deadlines. Especially because almost inevitably, the work that would have been done on that day off will have to be done in the days either side instead, making them potentially more hectic and stressful.

Not everyone de-stresses in the same way

And some supposedly de-stressing activities just aren’t effective if done in the wrong frame of mind. If you’re forcing employees to attend a mindfulness course when they know they’ve got an urgent deadline to return to, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to properly engage with the sessions. And if such sessions are optional, it’s unlikely that the most overwhelmed employees will put their work on hold to attend.

The most effective way to avoid employee burnout is to review everyone’s workload. While some periods of high pressure or emotionally challenging work might be unavoidable, it should at least be possible to make sure no-one is under that pressure all the time. Maybe that means redistributing tasks and responsibilities, or hiring another team member.

Giving employees the flexibility to manage their own time, rather than mandating particular ways of relaxing, is also important. Not everyone de-stresses in the same way. Some might appreciate an hour-long lunchbreak; others might recover more effectively if they can work through lunch and finish early. Providing employees with options for managing their stress, but letting them take control of the solutions that work best for them, is better than forcing everyone to relax.