It is widely acknowledged that taking annual leave reduces work stress and burnout. Regular breaks from work have positive mental health effects and are often attributed to being more creative at work when you do come back to your day job. It can be hard to find time between projects to escape on that well-earned trip away, or feel like you can justify the time off, but recharging your batteries is important self-care to prioritise each year.
Barriers to taking time off
Some of the biggest barriers to taking time off are both work and personal related.
Work related barriers include:
- Feeling like work is too busy to take time off right now
- Understaffing means you don’t have the right people to handover your work to
- A work culture of going away but continuing to work while you’re away
- A work culture of not taking holidays
- Feeling like going away won’t allow you to let go of your work stress and may make it worse as you can’t continue your normal work tasks
Personal related barriers include:
- Wanting to save up annual leave for a longer break
- Not being able to afford a holiday at the moment
Mandatory leave policies
Covid-19 created new challenges for employers, as teams were forced to work remotely for significant periods of time and often found themselves working longer workdays. In 2021, it was reported that work-related stress increased, but paid annual leave was down, presumably driven by an inability to “go away” on holiday.
Some companies are implementing mandatory leave periods to allow their team to log off and relax. This can be for common holiday periods such as the Christmas / New Year close down, or large companies instituting their own shutdown periods. The past few years have seen Hubspot implement a Global Week of Rest each July where they operate on a reduced staff to give the bulk of their team a week to rest and recharge.
Other companies are looking at unlimited leave days, particularly for their executive teams, as a way to reduce staff burnout and increase employee satisfaction and retention. Combining this with mandatory minimum leave days each year can start to change company cultures where taking leave is encouraged and holidays are seen as a time to reset and recharge. And what companies wouldn’t want their employees to bring their best selves to work? Companies can support this process with tracking annual leave and reminding their teams to take leave. Readily providing permission for holidays can be important in busy work environments.
Workcations and bleisure
As the world opens again post Covid-19 restrictions, there is an increasing trend of mixing work trips or taking your work to visit new locations and combining work and leisure.
What is bleisure?
Many of us will be familiar with bleisure but may never have called it this! Bleisure is the practice of booking a business trip and adding on a night or two to explore a new city or visit family and friends. Taking advantage of your flights being paid for and acclimatising to a new city during your ‘work’ hours can be a great way to sneak in a quick holiday too. Switching off from your work conference or work trip and having genuine downtime can be problematic for some though.
What is a workcation?
As more jobs are able to be worked remotely, the lure of heading somewhere new and exciting, while holding down your day job, is attractive to many. Perhaps you need a change of scenery to work through a new project or need some quiet space to tick off your annual planning or budgets. If a new location can help you be more productive or work smarter then a workcation could be a great option. It’s also a great solution for people that love to travel and explore but don’t have enough annual leave for their annual travel goals, or for people that aren’t tied to rental accommodation or a mortgage and are looking for flexible accommodation options like housesitting.
There’s no doubt that the workcation concept enables people to have a true work/life balance as they get to balance working demands but also have flexibility for life goals that are meaningful for them. Regular breaks from work are also important though. Logging off for periods of time certainly helps manage work-related stress and burnout.
Understanding hidden overwork
If you’re guilty of ‘catching up’ on work at the weekend, or checking your Slack or Teams messages in bed, you’re not alone. ‘Hidden overwork’ is the concept of working outside your work day to keep on top of your role. For some it’s prepping the evening before an important meeting, reading articles in the evenings to keep up with industry developments, or tackling the never ending inbox. It’s not considered ‘overtime’ but also adds to the eternal problem of making sure you take the time to switch off. Hidden overwork can be in response to fighting imposter syndrome and wanting to feel more prepared for work or meetings, or can be undertaken in order to advance your career.
Where hidden overwork is undertaken because you’re truly passionate about your job or the industry you work in and want to learn as much as possible, the extra hours can be extremely rewarding. For others, it can add to stress levels, can impact sleep and lead to burnout.
Making sure you log off and switch off
As we become more connected to our jobs than ever (thanks smartphones and laptops), it is difficult to disconnect from checking in on emails, reviewing your calendar for the next day to mentally prepare for meetings, or quickly answering a Slack or Teams message from a colleague. People at all levels of your company need to understand that truly switching off from work for periods of time is beneficial not only for the people taking time off, but also for your company.
Health benefits for employees when taking time off
We’ve already covered stress and burnout, but employees taking proper time off work can:
- Reduce their risk of heart attacks,
- Improve their work productivity when they return to work rested,
- Support better quality sleep.
Benefits for employers when employees take regular leave
- Employees take fewer sick days,
- Staff turnover reduces,
- Healthcare costs are lowered
It’s a no brainer. Flexibility in work and one’s personal life is important, and more achievable now than ever before, but taking regular breaks from work has never been so important. In a world where we increasingly take work home with us, having a complete break and switching off will allow us to properly recharge. The companies we work for benefit from this too – rested employees mean better productivity and a healthy workplace culture