As you might expect, at Timetastic, we’re massive fans of taking time off. A healthy attitude towards annual leave is a must for any modern business and its workers.
But it seems that we’ve not all grasped the importance of it: half of all UK employees don’t take their full allowance each year.
This is staggering, considering it's precious time in which we can spend with family and friends. This is the life in work/ life balance, and we're choosing to waste it. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves why taking time off is so important.
There's plenty of research showing that workaholic cultures don’t breed more productive businesses - just more burnout. If you’re not yet convinced to use some vacation days for a restful getaway, take a look at some of the benefits.
The benefits of annual leave
Enjoying some proper downtime away from work is undoubtedly good for you. Here are four of our top reasons to do it:
1 - Reduce absence and sickness
Counter-intuitively, taking time off actually reduces employee absence.
Or to put it another way - taking more planned time off reduces the amount of unplanned time off - ie. sickness. (It’s almost as if people aren’t meant to work all the time with no breaks!)
It makes sense when you consider it: the more leave you take, the more rested, relaxed and resilient to stress you’ll be. Your immune system will literally be stronger, meaning you're less likely to get ill in the first place, and will be faster to recover if you do. You’ll be less likely to develop a stress-related health condition (like high blood pressure or heart disease), and your general physical health will be better.
It should have positive impacts on your mental health, too (which we believe workplaces should support). So you won’t have to take as many short-term absences for stress or end up relying on sick pay to pay your bills.
2 - Improve productivity
Yep, it's true. Taking 4 weeks a year off work will grant more total productivity in those remaining 11 months than working straight through the year would.
Taking time off to rest, relax and focus elsewhere means you'll return with increased energy and motivation to do your job.
A survey of worker productivity and annual leave found that corporate leaders in countries with more paid holidays were ‘more likely to work at a faster pace, have a higher quality of focus, and feel more impatient’. The impatience comes from wanting to not waste any time; a desire to get things done in a limited amount of time rather than dragging it out in a tired, semi-productive haze.
Access to paid sick leave also increases overall employment stability.
3 - Increase creativity and insight
Any business needs new insights regularly, to develop new ideas and ways of doing things. Just going through the motions isn't enough, or you're at risk of getting left behind.
And insights come from taking a step back and letting the mind wander.
Even if managers want to set an example by appearing to work all the time (which we’d argue is a poor choice anyway), they’re doing themselves a disservice by missing out on thinking time. Despite the pressure to appear constantly busy, thinking is a critical part of innovation.
Taking time to think is a crucial part of self-care, and it’s how we let ideas develop. Slow hunches take a while to appear, then hit us like a lightning bolt given enough time and space.
"Understanding comes from focusing, chewing, and relentlessly ragging on a problem. It comes with false starts, dead ends, and frustration. Thinking requires time and space. It’s slow. It means saying I don’t know. In short, thinking is everything the modern workplace is designed to eradicate.”- Shane Parrish
Thinking - and having a brain in an optimal state to create things - is best done during or after a period of rest, not in the middle of juggling other tasks.
4 - Attract new talent
A proper leave policy will undoubtedly work in your favour when attracting highly-skilled employees. While we’re not huge fans of unlimited leave (here’s why), it does appear quite often in job listings as a desirable perk. People like time off.
We'd argue any company that takes employee wellbeing seriously - which includes their attitude towards time off - is going to attract better candidates.
The Four Types of Rest
Taking time off and resting properly isn’t just about lazing on the sofa watching TV. Being mindful of how we do it is a great way to get the recovery we actually need during time off.
Dr Matthew Edlund, in his book ’The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough’, outlines the four types of rest we need in our lives:
"Mental rest means focusing intelligently on your environment in a way that’s rejuvenating. Techniques of mental rest give you the ability to obtain calm and relaxed concentration quickly and effectively and to become relaxed and focused anytime and anywhere. Mental rest allows for greater concentration, awareness, and achievement."
This could involve:
- Reading fiction and other things unrelated to business.
- Meditation and breathing exercises.
- Taking time to appreciate your surroundings when otherwise you’d be playing with your phone.
"Social rest means using the power of social connectedness to relax and rejuvenate.”
Going to the pub, having dinner, playing ping pong, or just talking on the phone - it’s a great way to recharge and get things off your chest. Even if you’ve got a highly social job, being with friends is an important part of feeding our psychological need for human connection in a non-transactional context.
"Spiritual rest is the practice of connecting with things larger and greater than ourselves, which provides fellowship and meaning in life—factors people hunger for like food.”
Whether you’re a devout believer or a firm skeptic, taking some time to consider the big ideas - what am I doing with my life? - or to appreciate the magnificent beauty of nature will bring some much-needed perspective. It’s important to step back once in a while for contemplation, or else life will whizz by without us noticing.
"Physical rest, by focusing your body and its simplest physiological processes, provokes calm, relaxation, mental alertness, and surprisingly better health."
Ok, maybe you can laze around on the sofa with this one. Take a day off, get horizontal and chill. (But if you’re sat at a desk most days, physical activity like exercise and walking can be a refreshing ‘rest’ from daily work life. Your lower back will thank you.)
If you get as many of these bases covered when taking time off you’ll get the best out of your time off, and return properly rested and rejuvenated.
We do things differently round here
Stefan Sagmeister delivered a brilliant TED talk back in 2009 about The Power of Time Off.
A successful designer and agency owner, he structures his life and work a little differently. Stefan takes 1 year off from work entirely, every 7 years. The result - the following 7 years were much more successful as a result, for himself and the rest of the business.
His philosophy is that you don't have to follow general trends - do what works for you.
"We spend the first 25 years of our lives learning, then there is another 40 years that's reserved for working. And then tacked on at the end of it are about 15 years for retirement. And I thought it might be helpful to basically cut off five of those retirement years and intersperse them in between those working years."
It makes so much sense.
Even if you’re not in a position to be able to do that, it might make you think - how can you do things differently? Might an alternative philosophy of annual leave benefit you and your business?
We'd go with Stefan's outlook:
"...sameness is so incredibly overrated. This whole idea that everything needs to be exactly the same works for a very very few strand of companies, and not for everybody else."
So, to sum up:
- Spending time away from your boss & co-workers will help you do better work.
- How we rest is just as important as how long we rest for.
- You can think differently about how you & your company do time off.
Maybe now’s the time to book some vacation time. Have we convinced you to take a break yet?