What is it that holds you back? What pushes your employees or peers to burn themselves out? What halts growth and stifles innovation? What keeps cultures from overcoming periods of apathy? Some might point to poor company culture, faulty leadership, or even personal mental health and wellness. But one thing ties them all together—permission.

When we don’t feel like we have permission to do things that need to be done, we hold back and force ourselves into doing something unnatural. And that unnaturalness forms tension between two opposing things: what we are doing vs. what we should be doing.

Now, more often than not, permission is given tacitly. Meaning no one tells us we have permission to take the day off when we need the rest (except maybe during the onboarding process). It’s either built into the culture, or it isn’t. Sometimes, even if it is built into the culture, we don’t allow ourselves permission out of pure habit, fear, or uncertainty.

But whatever the cause, the bottom line is we need permission. We need it to maintain wellbeing at work, try new things freely, follow our gut, and actively confront difficult problems. Permission is needed if we want our organizations to have a healthy growth rate, our employees to have a healthy work-life balance, and our values and vision to withstand change.

For leaders

You may think your employees feel like they have the permission they need to:

  • Take time off work
  • Advocate for their needs (physical, mental, personal, and professional)
  • Try new processes
  • Challenge their leaders
  • Confront issues they see within the organization

But ask yourself: are you sure? How are you sure? Do you expressly permit your employees to do these things? Do their managers? Is it written in your company values? If you’re not sure, then your organization could probably benefit from a refresher.

Some red flags can help you identify when employees need permission. Suppose you have more than one (or even one) employee burning themselves out, consistently working long hours, or taking on too many things. In that case, they probably feel like they don’t have permission to say no to taking on more responsibility, taking the time they need for themselves, or asking for help.

If you want to remind your employees (or tell them for the first time) they have your support in doing these things, try:

  1. Telling them in a one-on-one or company-wide meeting
  2. Training your managers to work it into the onboarding process
  3. Writing it into your company values
  4. Acknowledging or celebrating employees who set an example
  5. Sending it in an email, writing it on the wall, shouting it from the rooftops

However you go about it, remember people often need to be reminded of what is allowed. Don’t fail to do so. Keep it in the conversation, add it to your company employee survey, bring it up wherever and whenever you can. It takes time to unlearn habits of keeping their heads down, keeping quiet, and avoiding asking for things. As a leader, work with your employees to gradually build their sense of permission.

And don’t forget to set the example. Don’t be afraid to tell your team when you need time off or that you’re comfortable asking for help when you need it.

For individuals

We’ve all had jobs where we felt we had to show up when we were sick or couldn’t take time off when we needed it. We’ve had managers who got mad at us for needing help or refused to listen to new ideas. There are far too many people working too many hours because they don’t feel they can advocate for their needs.

The fact is, sometimes you need to give yourself permission. If no one is doing it for you, do it yourself. And if you can’t do it, then here you go. Repeat after us:

You are allowed to take time off when you need it. You have permission to ask for help. You have permission to confront issues. You have permission to say no to more work. You have permission to quit any job that doesn’t give you permission to do these things. You have permission to ask for a raise and to tell your boss you deserve a promotion. You have permission to follow your gut. You have permission to fail.

For each other

As a society, we haven’t done a great job teaching people their needs are just as important as their jobs. We haven’t done an excellent job raising people to feel free to take time off or say when they’re overwhelmed. It’s not uncommon to feel like admitting you’re overwhelmed or need a break is like saying you can’t do the job. It feels like failure to admit these things to ourselves, much less each other, and even less to our bosses.

But if we don’t encourage people to advocate for their needs or take a day off without feeling guilty and afraid their positions will be negatively affected, we’re building an extremely fragile foundation for our success. For our organizations to succeed, we need our people to succeed. And for our people to succeed, we need to build a culture that allows them to meet their needs, guilt-free.

 

Photo by Lindsay Helms

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