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When not taking a holiday takes its toll

Edition: 5

The coronavirus has brought with it a range of new challenges for HR professionals – but one of the more surprising ones is the consequences of staff presenteeism at an all-time high. Whether it’s delaying travel because of the restrictions, or an increase in workloads brought about by the crisis and the government’s response, people just simply aren’t taking holidays. Sick and carer’s leave are down too, likely because of increased work from home arrangements and the flexibility that can provide.

As you would expect, this is not good for the mental health and wellbeing of staff. It also makes good financial sense to encourage people to take leave. Accrued leave that isn’t taken when it should be increases operating costs and make it difficult for business to stay on budget.

So how do HR professionals help managers encourage staff to take leave when they may not want to, but are showing signs they need it? We spoke to psychologist Mark Belanti about the red flags we can warn managers to keep an eye out for, and how to approach these sometimes delicate conversations.

“First of all, there are some warning signs that may indicate a staff member is not coping and would benefit from a break,” Mark explains.

They may be more intolerant than normal, they may have trouble concentrating, or seem fatigued. This can impact on their own productivity and can be damaging to the productivity and morale of the broader team.

“It’s the role of HR professionals to help managers encourage staff to self-care,” Mark explains. “So if a manager notices their people exhibiting any of these qualities, they need to start a conversation.”

It’s important to use the conversation to connect with empathy and compassion. A good way to begin, Mark suggests, is by stating what you have observed about the staff member’s recent behaviour.

You haven’t been talking as much in team meetings lately, you seem flat, or you haven’t seemed yourself lately, can all be helpful starters to the conversation. “The key is to be exploratory and not directive,” Mark says. “It’s important for managers to resist the temptation to be solutions-focused or use words like ‘should’ in this conversation.”

This might be hard, especially when managers themselves are under stress and maybe haven’t had a break for a long time either. HR professionals can encourage managers to lead by example: take breaks and talk openly with their teams about the importance of self-care. 

Once the manager has some understanding of what is going on, they can reflect back to the staff member what they have said in order to check they have understood correctly. Once there is a shared understanding of the situation, the manager can ask some prompting questions to get the staff member to come to their own resolution.

Some of these prompters could be:

  • ‘What are some steps we can take that may make life easier for you?’
  • ‘Let’s make a plan.’
  • ‘Let’s keep talking.’
  • ‘What do you think we should do if you’re still feeling like this in a month?’

Often a resolution won’t happen in one conversation, so it’s important the manager and staff member make a plan to revisit. “This will signal to the staff member that the manager has got their back and is keen to work with them to find a solution.”

If the situation becomes more complicated and the manager is unsure of how to proceed, they should have access to HR professionals to provide further guidance.

“Sometimes that initial conversation will uncover issues that the manager was unaware of and may be unsure how to navigate. For this reason, HR professionals should remain available to provide further advice and guidance,” Mark says.

All things going to plan, the staff member will at some point take their much-needed break and return to work refreshed and revived. If, however, this approach fails to find traction and the employee continues to decline and impact negatively on the team, further steps may be needed to ensure leave is taken and to continue to support the employee’s and the team’s wellbeing. This is not a situation anyone wants to be in – staff member, manager or HR professional.

“That’s why it’s important that managers keep a close eye on the wellbeing of staff, particularly during times like these when it is more likely that people may be struggling emotionally. Reach out early, show people you care, and often that will make a world of difference.”

Last reviewed: 
3 November 2020