Most of us are guilty of neglecting ourselves and putting our work first. This comes in many forms: working late in the office, working from home in the evening or simply not taking our allocated holiday effectively or efficiently. No one is attempting to damage their mental or physical wellbeing but other factors drive them. You may think taking time off will put you behind with your workload, that you may lose a promotion to a rival or that it generally looks bad or uncommitted to be keen to remove yourself from the office. I’m personally guilty of this and, frankly, it is a dangerous mindset. Not only because the reasoning is most likely flawed but also because this attitude is probably hampering your productivity as well.
The UK is fairly generous compared to the rest of the world with a minimum entitlement of 20 days of annual leave plus 8 days of public holidays. This is in stark contrast with the USA which has no guaranteed annual leave and the few days that companies allow their staff; their employees don’t take them or they take very few. France, on the other hand, offers a total of 36 days of paid leave annually as well as boasting the shortest working week. Whilst I’m not recommending that we replicate the French model, we do need to ensure that we effectively use our annual leave, as the American structure isn’t beneficial to your personal or team working environment.
The benefits to taking regular and meaningful holidays are clear and well documented. They have an obvious benefit to your direct happiness. This is regardless of whether your ideal vacation is laying on a beach in the Caribbean, bungee jumping in New Zealand or just having some time off at home. It will make you happier. This happiness makes you calmer, more content and more likely to come in to work and do a great job.
Vacations also come with health benefits and the most obvious one is that they help to reduce your stress levels. Every piece of data shows lower mortality rates in people who take frequent and meaningful holidays. This because the stress hormone, Cortisol, gets stored in your body and doesn’t dissipate until your body is given the opportunity to recover and repair. This puts you at higher risk of a multitude of health problems including heart disease and depression. You’re also at risk of premature ageing, and being an extremely vain person, I feel this is the scariest result! So, unless you’d like to be featured on 10 Years Younger, I’d recommend booking that holiday!
And finally, taking time off is proven to increase productivity across the workforce. I’m sure you have had the feeling after a week recharging: you come back raring to go, you’ve clearly formulated a plan for your returning week and you are more motivated than ever to succeed. You are also less likely to take any sick days as you are well rested and healthy, which, in turn, increases productivity. Just make sure you don’t work when you’re on holiday – too many people do, and this completely undermines the reduction in stress levels. You need to completely switch off from the working world whilst away. If you allow yourself to think or worry about your work while you’re off, then you may as well have stayed in the office, as the repercussions on your health are the same. It isn’t always possible to leave everything behind but the more you can, the better it will be for you. Not only for your career but your personal health and ensuring you’ll be able to experience life to the full.
Toby Swann, Associate – IT and Software Engineering