3 simple tactics the best bosses use to help people perform better—No. 1 is 'vacation minimums'

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Most bosses want their employees to perform highly. Not all of them create an environment where that's possible.

Eighty-four percent of U.S. workers say their managers are responsible for creating unnecessary work and heightened stress on the job, according to a 2020 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. Scenarios like this contribute to 40% of employees feeling burned out, recent research from Future Forum notes.

A small number of bosses, then, are doing it right. Here are three simple tactics they're using to help people perform better, according to a group of experts who spoke at the 2023 NeuroLeadership Summit in New York earlier this month.

Vacation minimums

Most workplaces across the U.S. have a vacation maximum. The average worker gets 10-14 days of vacation time per year after one year of service, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. 

Your organization should rethink that approach, says Christy Pruitt-Haynes, the NeuroLeadership Institute's global head of talent and performance practice.

"There are a number of organizations that we've worked with who, instead of having vacation maximums, will say vacation minimums, which is an interesting concept," she said. "You still have your maximum allotment ... but then you need to take a minimum of two weeks off."

In some cases, companies even require at least five of each employee's vacation days to be taken consecutively — in other words, a mandatory "solid week" of vacation, said Pruitt-Haynes.

"[This says] not only do we care about you, we care about you to the extent that we are moving you out so you can have that mental rest that you need," she said.

Say 'no' to workcations

Disconnecting from work during time off can be difficult. Fifty-four percent of U.S. workers say they can't or shouldn't completely stop working while on vacation, according to a 2022 Glassdoor report.

One way to help, whether you're someone's boss or colleague: Hold your work-related emails or phone calls for them until after they return, said Rebecca Port, chief people officer at biotechnology company 10x Genomics.

"I've worked in [organizations] where you took what was called 'block leave,' which was two weeks, you couldn't check email, you couldn't make any approvals," Port said. "[It forced employees] to take that mental break."

Employees can also take their own stand against workcations, Jonny Edser, managing director of team-building company Wildgoose USA, told CNBC Make It last year. Turn off any company-owned devices while you're away and plan busy vacation days to keep yourself from thinking about work, he advised.

Lead by example

Fifty-four percent of managers don't use their full allotment of time off, says an August report from the Pew Research Center. Forty-six percent percent of workers don't either, the report noted.

Managers may not want to be seen as absent. Employees can be scared of getting judged more harshly than their always-in-the-office colleagues. That's why bosses need to set a visible standard, said Julianne Ugo, senior director of people of Premier Nutrition.

"[Workplaces] can have a two-week mandatory [leave], but if your leader sits there in the background doing work or expecting you to respond to them [during vacation], that's obviously going to diminish the impact of that," Ugo said. "So it's important that leaders are role modeling it."

Bosses who stress "the necessity and importance of mental downtime and mental rest" reap significant benefits, said Pruitt-Hayes: Happy employees perform better, which is a win for everyone.

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