Mental health breaks: Why more companies should follow Nike and Bumble

Roger Federer Nike shoes kick off the clay as he serves the ball during his 1st round men's singles match against Alejandro Falla on day one of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 24, 2015 in Paris, France
'Our senior leaders are all sending a clear message: Take the time to unwind, destress and spend time with your loved ones. Do not work,' said a Nike senior manager. Photo: PA

Nike (NKE) has given its head office employees in the US a week off to relax and "destress" after the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sportswear brand said staff in Oregon would be encouraged to ignore all work responsibilities, a move that puts Nike among a number of companies who have offered employees time off to address the rising problem of burnout.

“Nike HQ is also powering down for a full week off starting next Monday. Our senior leaders are all sending a clear message: Take the time to unwind, destress and spend time with your loved ones. Do not work,” Matt Marrazzo, a senior manager at Nike, said in a message on his LinkedIn page.

“It's times like this that I'm so grateful to be a part of this team. In a year (or two) unlike any other, taking time for rest and recovery is key to performing well and staying sane,” he added. “It's not just a ‘week off’ for the team... It's an acknowledgment that we can prioritise mental health and still get work done. Support your people. It's good business but it's also the right thing to do.”

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Earlier this year, the dating app Bumble (BMBL) gave staff a paid week off work to recover from “collective burnout” triggered by the pandemic, as staff struggled to switch off when working from home. So should all companies follow suit and offer employees extra time off? Or is there a better way to address burnout in the workplace?

“In the pandemic, staff have worked remotely balancing multiple roles and/or childcare, a paid week off is a employer’s recognition of the pressures that staff have faced,” says Life Coach Directory member Donna Pereira.

“Extra time off helps employees on a practical level to manage other roles and responsibilities, such as childcare or caring for a loved one. A paid week off for mental health is one protective measure to support employees from experiencing burnout.”

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Giving employees a week off effectively forces people to take time and space to destress, as research suggests many employees can be reluctant to take annual leave. The challenging economic climate has meant many people feel compelled to work longer hours and take fewer days off, despite their stress levels increasing.

“Time spent outdoors in the sunshine, doing exercise or seeing a loved one will improve wellbeing. A workforce that has had a break and felt no pressure to work in that week, will be a happier and more productive workforce,” says Pereira.

“We all know that feeling when we go on holiday and gain different perspectives about a situation, a problem, or a relationship,” she adds. “Being in a different space and having time away allows employees to develop different perspectives, rejuvenate and return to the office feeling more motivated, creative, and productive.”

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However, it’s important for companies to fully commit to improving employee mental health. Some businesses might offer extra time off to boost their reputation as a good employer without addressing structural problems that negatively impact wellbeing, such as heavy workloads, bad management or a toxic culture.

In fact, forcing people to take a holiday while ignoring these issues may exacerbate stress and anxiety, as employees rush to catch up on work before or after taking leave.

It’s also essential to factor in whether or not all employees will benefit from extra time at home. If people are facing a particularly busy period, they may appreciate the time off at a different time. Therefore, giving people a choice over whether or not they take a holiday may be an option for employers.

“There could be downsides for a minority of staff,” says Pereira. “There may be staff living with an abusive partner where an extra week off could cause more distress to an individual. For some employees who are socially isolated, an extra week off could negatively impact their wellbeing as it is work that is providing their daily structure and interactions with other people.”

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That being said, the benefits of extra time off can go beyond employees feeling more rested — as long as employers are fully invested in improving worker wellbeing. By acknowledging the stress that many people have experienced because of COVID-19, companies can improve morale and company culture too.

“Valuing employee mental wellbeing is good business,” says Pereira. “Staff will be attracted to a company who places high value on wellbeing and a paid week off for wellbeing is a positive initiative to attract and retain employees.”

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