Editorial: Encouraging the daily recharge

While getting up to three months off after working somewhere for 10 years sounds like a great deal, the idea seems unlikely to become a common feature in Canadian workplaces, as it is in Australia.

As Benefits Canada’s Sara Tatelman reports in this month’s issue, Australia’s generous system of additional paid time off for long-term employees is in many ways a reflection of historic and geographic anomalies. The practice dates back to the 19th century when, after 10 years of service, government employees would get between six and 12 months of paid leave to travel home to Britain, since the sea voyage could take months.

Read: A look at long-service leave in Australia

Canada is hardly as generous when it comes to time off, so it’s unlikely any jurisdiction in this country is likely to legislate paid leave for long service on the lines of Australia’s system. But Australia’s example is a good reminder of the benefits employers reap when they allow their employees to disconnect from their jobs. Besides increased retention, unplugging from work helps them be more productive and focus at work.

The good news is helping employees unplug doesn’t necessarily have to require giving them three months off. As attendees at Benefits Canada’s Benefits and Pension Summit heard in April, sleep is becoming an increasingly important issue for employees who find themselves thinking about work at night. Presenters at the conference noted the lack of sleep that plagues many Canadians can cut cognitive capacity by up to 50 per cent and be a significant cause of presenteeism. The result is a cost of $5,000 in lost productivity per employee every year.

Read: Employers ‘pay a high price’ for workers’ sleep deficiencies

So what can employers do? It turns out there’s quite a bit. Discouraging staff from reading and answering emails at night is one relatively straightforward way to help. Then there’s allowing for short naps, which help employees recharge and get through the periods of low energy that many people experience during the day. Introducing a nap room is one way to encourage people to try taking a short rest in a conducive environment. Wellness programs can also help.

Employers may resist measures like nap rooms, given the optics and concern about people sleeping on the job, but the issue is no different than the move towards workplace flexibility as more employees work from home and on schedules that suit their needs. It’s all about trust, as well as a recognition that employees will have to find a way to manage their workloads regardless of the schedule they happen to be working on.

Read: Employers and employees disagree on right to request flexible working

Improving the workplace doesn’t have to go as far as three months off for tenured employees. In many ways, employers would do just as well to make the work environment more manageable on a day-to-day basis so employees can get the rest they need and show up each day ready to contribute.

CLARIFICATION: An article in the April issue of Benefits Canada, “Focus on the mind,” included a line attributed to Sun Life Financial’s Marie-Hélène Pelletier that suggested that counsellors with employee assistance programs are often not registered clinicians. The story should have instead noted that counsellors may or may not be registered psychologists.

Glenn Kauth is the editor of Benefits Canada.

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