More employers to offer 'burnout weeks'

The number of employers offering staff paid 'burnout weeks', intended to alleviate the stresses of the pandemic, is increasing and looks set to become a trend.

Dating app Bumble announced in April that all its employees will be given one week of paid, fully offline leave in June.

Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder of Bumble, said this was to combat any burnout employees may be feeling after the intense period of work caused by the pandemic. Since then, other companies have followed suit, including LinkedIn.

In order to assess the sector's response to these initiatives, HR magazine conducted a poll and found 81% of respondents think a paid week off to tackle employee burnout is a good idea.

Only a small minority (8%) thought it was a bad idea, while 11% said something else is needed to combat the impact the pandemic has had on employees.

On trend

Philip Richardson, partner and head of employment law at Stephensons said the idea of offering staff a burnout week to help recharge the batteries and alleviate the pressures of work has become increasingly popular over recent months.

He told HR magazine: “The trend, at present, is largely a US-centric one, and in part seems to compensate for the country’s long-established hesitancy to offer employees any significant periods of paid annual leave.

“That said, I can certainly see some UK-based companies, in certain industries, offering similar opportunities on these shores.”

Richardson said many companies have already embraced HR initiatives such as duvet days and that the burnout week seems like an extension of that idea.

“At a time when both physical and mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront of people’s minds, this offers staff an opportunity to disconnect entirely from the world of work."

However, he also pointed out that the “challenge with the concept of a burnout week is whether staff should ever even reach that breaking point in the first place.”

The post-pandemic workplace will not bear any resemblance to that before COVID-19, argued Richardson, and many businesses have introduced policies that actively encourage a better work-life balance through homeworking or flexible hours.

He said: “For many HR teams there will be a focus on preventing employee burnout and supporting those colleagues long before this becomes an issue.”

Linda Mountford, HR director at John West, said continued focus on employee wellbeing would diminish the need for a burnout week.

While the paid week off sounds appealing, Mountford said her HR team prefers to roll out regular measures, as they believe this is more sustainable when it comes to protecting mental health.

She told HR magazine: "Throughout the pandemic, we have offered every employee a second Friday afternoon off work to give them some much needed time out of their busy work schedule.

"By coordinating this for every employee in the business, this ensures that each person will not come back to a high volume of work."

Not best practice for all businesses

Sridhar Iyengar, managing director, Europe at business software company Zoho, said given the past 18 months, it is totally understandable that some staff are feeling burnt out and would welcome an extra week to refuel.

He told HR magazine: “This is true especially for those employees with complex circumstances and extra responsibilities which have led to more stressful homeworking environments, such as caring for young children, or helping relatives.

“Also, those in tightly spaced housing or house shares who have to compete for any space outside of their bedrooms to try to create a decent homeworking environment could be feeling more stressed from homeworking.”

Business leaders should be in close contact with their employees to understand if any staff are at risk or already suffering from burnout, said Iyengar.

He added: “That being said, a blanket offer of an extra week off may not be a 'fix-all' strategy when it comes to over-stressed or burnt-out staff.

“Every employee has a unique set of circumstances and handles stress differently.

“It would be best to understand the cause of the issue for every employee's needs and resolve those, as extra time off may not be the way to resolve burnout for all,” he said.

HR magazine carried out the poll on 23 June 2021 and had 2,160 responses.