PTO hasn’t solved your employee burnout problem. Now what?


Offering more paid time off (PTO) is a commonly suggested solution for employee burnout. 

However, you might have discovered that employees burn out again just a few weeks after returning from PTO.

This is because PTO isn’t a solution to burnout

True employee burnout is usually the result of a toxic company culture, and while giving them time off might temporarily reduce stress, it won’t end the burnout cycle. 

We also believe that PTO is a basic human necessity that all employees require to function at peak performance, and it shouldn’t be treated as a remedy for burnout. 

So in this post, we’ll discuss how you can take a proactive approach to solving employee burnout by creating a healthy company culture that supports your employees’ mental and emotional well-being so that they continue to perform at their best. 

Why Doesn’t PTO Solve Employee Burnout?

Stress is normal in the workplace, and PTO is an excellent way for employees to decompress after a project deadline or critical event.

However, stress and burnout are very different. 

Employees who are stressed eagerly return to work with renewed motivation after PTO, whereas burned-out employees will likely return from PTO with a feeling of dread.

So why doesn’t PTO solve burnout?

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. 

It’s the result of a build-up of stress over a long period of time, and burned-out employees develop thought patterns and mind frames that need to be broken before they can recover.

Therefore, they might need professional help, like therapy, to recover. If you currently have a burnout problem, it’s important to offer an EAP for counseling and support. 

However, therapy is still a reactive solution to employee burnout and won’t prevent it from occurring.

This is because burnout is the result of a toxic workplace culture.

In a healthy workplace, employees can be highly productive and work hard without burning out because they feel supported and appreciated by their team and employer. 

In contrast, employees in a toxic workplace culture might have the exact same workload yet feel drained and overwhelmed because they don’t feel secure and supported by their team and employer.

So even if employees take time off to recuperate, they’ll quickly burn out again after PTO because they’ll return to the same environment that caused burnout in the first place. 

This means the real solution to employee burnout is amending the company culture.

What’s the cost of using PTO as a solution to burnout?

Using PTO as a band-aid solution to solve burnout rather than addressing the larger cultural issues comes with plenty of other negative consequences. 

A few of these consequences include poor Glassdoor reviews, high employee turnover, and poor employee productivity and engagement.

In addition, companies with toxic workplace cultures tend to have poor mission and vision alignment because disengaged employees focus on completing their own to-do tasks rather than thinking about how to most effectively leverage their time and resources and work with their team members to contribute to the larger company goal. 

Additional benefits of solving company culture issues that cause burnout

Preventing employee burnout is just one benefit of solving a toxic company culture, though there are plenty of other benefits to fostering a healthy culture that ultimately improves the company’s bottom line. Below, we’ll discuss a few of these benefits.

Lower Attrition 

If employees feel appreciated, have plenty of growth opportunities, and enjoy their co-workers, they’ll be less likely to leave the company as other offers arise. 

If you have top talent, a healthy culture is critical to retaining them because competitors and other companies will constantly approach them with other attractive offers.

Attract Top Talent

Excellent company culture leads to happier employees, and happier employees are more likely to recommend their friends for open jobs and positions at your company.

This makes it easier to attract top talent without paying high recruiter fees, and statistics show that 88% of employers claim employee referrals are the best source for finding above-average applicants. 

Happy employees are also more likely to leave positive reviews on Glassdoor and other employer review websites, which can help convert top candidates.

Improves Productivity

Employees who feel comfortable in their roles and aren’t operating from a mindset of fear are more likely to think strategically to solve problems and bring their own ideas to conversations rather than just checking off boxes on a to-do list.  

As a result, they’ll likely produce better results for the company because they’re focused on solving the problem rather than completing required tasks.

In addition, employees who feel appreciated are more likely to go above and beyond for their organization and deliver better results than those who resent their employer.

More Effective Communication 

When employees have good relationships with their co-workers, they’re more likely to communicate openly, which helps projects stay aligned and on track. 

Teammates with excellent relationships are also more likely to confront issues as they arise, which prevents resentment and wasted resources.

How do you create a healthy workplace culture to proactively prevent burnout?

Solving toxic company culture is the best way to proactively prevent employee burnout, but how do you begin to solve cultural issues?

Below, we’ll discuss five actionable steps you can take today to improve a toxic workplace environment.

Step 1: Measure Engagement

The first step to solving cultural challenges is assessing your employees’ current engagement and general well-being. 

This data will give you a starting point to build a strategy to improve company culture and provide a valuable benchmark metric to measure your company culture strategy.

To measure employee engagement, start by running an eNPS survey to gauge general employee satisfaction. You can use an eNPS survey template from a tool like SurveyMonkey or Typeform and send it to all your employees. Employees must also know all survey data is anonymous, as that’s the best way to collect honest feedback.

eNPS scores range from -100 to +100, and while a score of +10 to +30 is considered good, a score of +50 would be excellent. 

While the eNPS score will give you a general overview of employee satisfaction, you’ll also need to run a long-form survey to identify the specific issues with the company culture. 

In addition to survey data, you can also measure employee participation in optional activities like team building activities, social functions, ERGs, and speaker series/lunch and learns. If your company currently doesn’t offer any optional activities, that’s a red flag, and offering these activities is a good place to start improving the company culture.

Finally, look at general employee productivity metrics. 

For example, are teams accomplishing their weekly and quarterly goals? What are common challenges that arise in one-on-ones with team leaders?

Once you’ve collected this data, you can accurately assess the company’s cultural health and pinpoint what’s causing the toxicity. 

Step 2: Achieve Buy-In From Leadership

If you start trying to implement changes to improve the company culture, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle if executives and team leaders don’t support the new initiatives.

For example, employees probably won’t participate in social activities you plan if they don’t see their leaders participating. 

This is because employees in toxic workplaces typically don’t want to spend any more time with their team than they absolutely must. Therefore, if team leaders don’t participate in team building activities, employees will take that as a sign that they don’t need to participate either. In addition, employees may fear participating in mental wellness initiatives, like seven-minute breaks, if they see their leaders working straight through these activities.

Finally, many toxic cultural issues, like unrealistic expectations, come directly from team leaders. So unless team leaders change, these company culture issues will persist.   

To achieve buy-in from team leaders, use the data collected in the first step to demonstrate that a culture problem exists.

Then, build an argument showing how these cultural issues negatively affect the company’s bottom line. 

Executives care most about the company’s success, so creating a narrative demonstrating how improving the culture will increase the company’s bottom line will be much more effective at achieving buy-in than simply telling them that employees are unhappy.

Here’s a sample framework you can use to present your case to the leadership team: 

“The average employee tenure is about five years, though our average tenure is X. This is a problem because we spend an average of Z dollars on each new hire.

In addition, our eNPS score is currently X, which is below the global average eNPS score of +32. This means our employees won’t refer their friends to our company. Unfortunately, 88% of employers claim employee referrals are the best source for finding high quality applicants, so we probably aren’t acquiring the best talent possible.

Our employees also aren’t performing as well as we hoped, as we missed X key goals this quarter and team leaders report that their teams only achieve approximately Y% of their weekly goals. 

These performance scores correlate with the engagement scores across each of these teams.

Currently, we’re addressing these issues by giving employees more PTO, but this isn’t a cure to the root problem, and it’s also costing the company money and constraining productivity.”

You can also add statistics demonstrating how well-being and engagement programs effectively solve the above mentioned challenges. Statista has a wealth of statistics that show the correlation between well-being and enhanced productivity, and the American Psychological Association also published a report on the correlation between work performance and well-being.

Now that you’ve laid out the problem, the next part of your pitch should provide a solution. We’ll outline specific methods to improve company culture in the steps below.   

Step 3: Implement Well-Being And Engagement Activities That Are Right For Your Team

Engagement activities are important to improving company culture because they help employees build genuine relationships with one another and foster a culture of camaraderie and support. 

This helps improve work productivity and general company performance because employees are more likely to communicate more often and freely if they have positive relationships with their co-workers. Co-workers with great relationships are also more likely to confront and solve issues quickly before resentment builds. 

So what makes a good engagement activity?

First, it should be easily accessible to anyone (especially if you’re a remote or hybrid team), and it’s relatively easy to execute. 

It should also fit your employees’ interests and demographics. For example, an office fantasy football league could be a great engagement activity if your employees love football, though it might not be appropriate if only about half of your co-workers are based in the United States and understand football.

We realize that creating and executing the perfect engagement activities can be challenging, so to help you solve these problems, we created Bright Breaks.

Bright Breaks are seven minute scheduled breaks where our team directs your employees through a live activity that’s designed to improve employee engagement while simultaneously giving employees a mental break so that they return to work feeling refreshed.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Your teammates send us their calendars and tell us what activities they like. We offer over 300 live sessions per week ranging from breathing and stretching to meditation and relaxing.  
  2. We schedule seven-minute breaks into your employees’ calendars and ensure they fit their goals without sacrificing productivity. By scheduling breaks at convenient times, employees are more likely to take the breaks without feeling guilty about wasting time.
  3. Employees attend the sessions and return to work feeling refreshed, ultimately improving productivity and performance.

Bright Breaks is an excellent employee well-being solution because sessions are easy for employees to attend, and you don’t have to deal with the headache of organizing any engagement activities.

There are also several other solutions that you might consider, including:

  • Keynote Speakers: You can hire speakers to come and talk to your team on a variety of topics ranging from informative industry information to fun cultural topics.   
  • Step Challenge App: Employees can track their steps and compete with one another using a step tracking app like MoveSpring.This encourages general employee wellness and helps employees get to know their co-workers.  
  • Social Hours: Plan activities like wine tasting, group yoga, or a hike to encourage employees to build more personal relationships. 

Step 4: Align Middle Management On Cultural Adjustments

Even if you get executive buy-in for cultural changes, employees won’t embrace the new culture if their managers are still operating with toxic cultural habits.

For example, even if C-Suite executives are taking Bright Breaks, employees will probably still be hesitant to stop work and participate if they notice their managers never take breaks.

So as you pitch the idea to C-Suite executives, implement a system where C-Suite checks in with directors who check in with middle managers to ensure the program is implemented throughout the company. 

Then, ask your C-suite executives for the green light to follow-up with the check-in implementation progress.

From a tactical perspective, these check-ins might be as simple as determining which teams attend the most engagement activities. You can also ask managers to dedicate five minutes of one-on-one meetings to discussing that employee’s well-being.

Step 5: Measure Initial Experimentation and Collect Feedback 

Now that you’re offering plenty of engagement activities and making changes to the culture, identify what’s working and what isn’t by collecting feedback so that you can iterate on these experiments to create a healthier culture.

The simple act of asking for employee feedback also demonstrates to employees that you’re serious about making changes to the company culture, and they’ll feel that their opinions and well-being are valued. 

You can collect feedback by running quarterly eNPS and long-form surveys and gauge how your new changes impact employee satisfaction. After collecting these results, you can follow up with your C suite executives to show them the impact of improving company culture.

Taking a proactive approach to employee burnout

PTO isn’t a solution to employee burnout because the root cause of burnout is a toxic workplace culture.

Employee burnout is also just one of many side effects of a toxic culture, along with low productivity, high employee turnover, poor communication, and difficulty sourcing top talent.

The good news is that you can significantly improve your workplace culture by implementing small changes, like Bright Breaks, that refresh employees and make them feel appreciated. 

You can learn more about how Bright Breaks helps you foster a healthier company culture by scheduling a demo today. 

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