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America Doesn’t Take Vacation, but You Should

The Fortune 500 Insiders Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Enrique Conterno, president of Lilly Diabetes, has answered the question: How do you prevent burnout?

Earlier this year, Gallup reported that not even one-third of U.S employees feel engaged in their work, a number that has remained—for the most part—stagnant since 2000. There are many reasons for this trend, a main one being burnout—an ambiguous term that is used far-too loosely in the business world. Burnout can be a serious workplace issue that drives down productivity and drives up costs.

People are working longer hours than ever, and many Americans are not relaxing even when they do find a little free time. They’re often interrupted by “urgent” messages and calls from the office. What’s more, Glassdoor’s Q1 2014 Employment Confidence survey found that U.S. employees used just half of their paid vacation time, while six of every 10 worked while on vacation.

There are no easy answers. After all, we live in a competitive, global economy where expectations are high and patience, at times, can run thin. Ultimately, you need to own your health and draw firm boundaries around your personal life. Preventing burnout may require some changes, and the following steps are a good start:

Find time to play
It’s tempting, and sometimes necessary, to dive head-long into work from early morning until late at night. But holding down endless work hours day after day isn’t good for you or your performance. Use your passions as a platform for balance. Family, friends, and interests such as reading, the arts, and sports are important outlets. In my case, swimming early in the morning helps me clear my head and be more productive throughout the day. I’m a former college swimmer, and most days I swim up to 75 minutes before heading into the office. I’m better at work and at home because of it.


Renew yourself
Many of us are working longer hours than ever, so it’s not surprising that we are sleeping less. About one-third of Americans sleep less than seven hours a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When you include typical commitments—work, family, and volunteering—people are investing fewer hours in rest and relaxation. I’m also guilty of working late into the evening because of workload or a pressing deadline, but I try to limit these instances.

Tony Schwartz, an author and CEO of The Energy Project, wrote in The New York Times that “strategic renewal—including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office, and longer, more frequent vacations—boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.” At our headquarters in Indianapolis, we now have a regulation-size soccer field, a track, and on-site fitness centers. We also provide bicycle racks and shower facilities for more than 150 local employees who bike to work each day. All contribute to a healthier, more balanced workforce.

Burnout, particularly when driven by lack of rest, is also expensive. Harvard Medical School research says lack of sleep leads to as many as 274,000 workplace accidents and errors annually in the U.S., costing companies $31 billion. Sleeplessness is associated with more workplace accidents and errors than other chronic conditions.

Ultimately, when you are equally excited about coming to work in the morning and going home in the evening, you will produce stronger business results and have more a balanced life.