Gone are the days when unused sickness leaves were carried forward by employees to the next year. Times are such that organisations are surprising their workforce with wellness holidays and encouraging them to take leaves to rest and unwind. Yes. The realisation has dawned that while sick leaves can take care of physical illness, psychological exhaustion also requires time to be treated. Thus has emerged the trend of employees being urged to take a day off just to relax and do nothing — a holiday to rest their exhausted minds and bodies.
Why are wellness leaves necessary?
To correct work-life imbalance: It was never easy to balance professional and personal life. With more people working remotely, this has become a bigger challenge, with entire families — husband, wife, children, sometimes elderly parents too, at home 24×7 — all trying to work, study and also handle domestic chores within a limited space. Considering that employees’ mental and physical wellbeing plays the biggest role in employee experience, time needs to be taken off to restore balance.
To disconnect completely: To completely disconnect from work or household duties is becoming next to impossible with the work-from-home situation. This may lead to sleeplessness, brain fogging, anxiety, extreme physical and mental exhaustion and even depression. There needs to be some time where the employees can afford to forget about official work altogether. Razorpay already has a policy wherein the second Wednesday of every month is observed as a ‘no meeting day’ where employees get a break from the innumerable online meetings that they get dragged into. Employees of DBS Bank have been instructed to take a five-day mandatory holiday every year.
To enjoy screen-free time: With no physical meetings happening, employees are spending too much time staring at their computer or laptop screens. Increased screen time has taken a toll on people’s eyes and creative thinking. The day starts with the screen and ends with the screen for most employees who are working from home. Excessive time spent staring at the screen causes headaches, insomnia, stiff neck, shoulder pain, and strain to the eyes. It also leads to obesity and weight gain and stunts creativity. Realising that its employees were glued to their laptops or desktops at home for long hours at a stretch, HR tech startup, Springworks, decided to ask all its employees to remain offline on July 3, 2020.
To focus on health and fitness: Employees are hardly getting any exercise. With limited space at home and too much work to handle, people are left with no spare time to work out, go for walks or even indulge in five minutes of exercise. A break is necessary for employees to force them to think about their bodies, minds and health.
To prevent emotional fatigue: During the pandemic, employees have not taken any casual leaves. With mobility restrictions, most do not feel the need to take a day off, as they cannot really go out or watch a movie or even dine out in peace without risking infection. Employees working from home are stretching themselves, especially mothers, who are having to handle official and domestic work along with their children, 24×7. What these overworked employees and their employers do not realise is that too much work will lead to burnout. In other words, the employees will be so exhausted physically and mentally that they will start experiencing emotional fatigue. This can be a fatal mix, which will affect productivity. Recently, media company, Thomson Reuters, introduced an annual company holiday on October 9, calling it Mental Health Day. On May 29, Sarva, a Chennai-based yoga studio gave its employees a mental wellbeing holiday. Razorpay went a step ahead of the others and chose to rename its sick leaves as wellness leaves. Many other Indian startups have started the trend of offering their staff leaves to promote mental health and overall wellness.
To drive home the importance of taking a break: In August, ad agency, Ogilvy, decided to give its employees a mental boost by giving them a Monday off. Aptly christened ‘Do Nothing Monday’, the holiday was preannounced so that employees could prepare for it and also inform their clients and be relieved of taking any calls. It is a good idea to arrange for employees to get a taste of a break. Only when they actually do disconnect in the true sense of the word, do they realise how much good it does to them.
Googlers got a day off on May 22, and Cisco also gave a day off allowing its employees to enjoy a long weekend, to rest and relax. Freshworks, a ten-year-old startup that provides cloud-based customer-engagement software, gave its employees a paid holiday on July 24 this year, to rest and put their feet up.
Bangalore-based Rocketium, a SaaS marketing software company, gave its staff a much-welcomed elongated break in July, by adding two days off to a weekend.
Companies the world over are waking up to the fact that their employees need to take time off to charge up their tired bodies and minds. If they fail to do so, it is the overall business that will suffer from a dip in productivity. They also realise that sickness leaves are not enough to offer relief to employees from their demanding work schedules.
Studies have shown that reducing working hours actually increases productivity because employees master the art of working smart and making optimal use of the shorter hours at their disposal.
Many big names, such as Google, Twitter, Hindustan Unilever, Mondelez India, Nestle, Godrej, GSK Consumer Healthcare and L’Oreal have forced their employees to take a break from work, for their wellbeing.
As long as these wellness leaves are planned and do not inconvenience the rest of the team members, they should be encouraged by employers, for the longer good of the business.