The importance of taking time off work for employees and their organisations
Never underestimate the importance of taking vacation days. It’s a simple fact of life that everyone needs downtime every once in a while. We tend to idolise people who stay late and never take holiday, because they’re hard-working and totally committed.
But that’s just not an efficient way to work. So, let’s look at why it’s important to take time off work, and how your business can actually be more productive when everyone uses their whole holiday allowance.
How toxic workplaces discourage taking time off
If you've spent much time in a professional environment, you’ve probably met people who wear their job stress like a badge of pride. The kind of person who, if you so much as whisper that you’re feeling overworked, will respond with wild-eyed intensity that THEY work 65-hour weeks, AND make homecooked meals for their kids, AND volunteer at the weekends, thank you very much.
These impossibly hardworking people use their supposedly busy schedules as a stick to browbeat anyone who doesn’t share the same robot-like mentality. And it gets much worse when they’re promoted. Employees with unhealthy attitudes towards time off become absolutely terrible managers who drive away employees with the same unhealthy attitudes that they now have the power to enforce.
In workplace cultures that reward overworking and presenteeism, those who take time off are seen as letting down their teammates and other colleagues by being “weak.” Sometimes, even taking sick days because you’re genuinely ill can be frowned upon.
This can be really discouraging, because you don’t want to let your friends at work down, and you don’t want to be passed over for promotion because you don’t have the “right mentality.”
But, not only is this approach completely unsustainable, it’s also massively inefficient. It’s important to take time off work, because research shows that working too many hours kills productivity, with one study showing that employees working 40-55 hours a week performed significantly better than those working 65+ hours a week.
The benefits of time off work
Some of the most convincing reasons why it’s important to take time off work are the positives. Aside from the fact that employees taking time off stops them from burning out and leaving the company, there are a few outright benefits of employees taking time off in your organisation.
- Time off work boosts financial output: As we’ve said, not taking a break quickly leads to diminishing returns. According to Sabine Sonnentag, the professor of Organizational Psychology at the University of Mannheim in Germany, 64% of people return from vacation feeling refreshed and excited to get back to work. Due to the importance of time off in combating burnout symptoms, unused vacation days cost US businesses $224 billion a year.
- It helps employees manage their personal commitments: Beyond productivity, there are plenty of other reasons why it’s important to take time off work. For starters, time off helps employees to manage other aspects of their lives. Old-fashioned approaches to professionalism dictated that a business’s employees should leave their troubles at the door when they come in, but that’s easier said than done.
The fact is, if an employee has an ailing relative, or a child struggling in school, or anything else, but don’t have the time to deal with it, that issue is bound to distract and weigh on them. Making time off easily accessible means employees can always find the time to handle personal problems so they don’t bleed over into work.
- Employees who take time off are more successful: It may be that, in toxic workplace cultures, people who dare to use the time off they’re entitled to get passed over for promotion. But, in practice, it seems that the opposite is true. In one study, staff who used less than 10 of their vacation days had a 34.6% likelihood of getting a raise or promotion in a three-year period, whereas those who took 10 or more had a 65.4% likelihood of a raise or promotion.
- Regular breaks make staff feel more valued: Encouraging your staff to use their paid holiday time shows that you value them as employees, because it shows that you prioritise their wellbeing. Feeling valued is one of the 10 key contributors to employee engagement, and is important for generating discretionary effort and preventing staff turnover in the long-term.
How to encourage employees to take time off work
So, we’ve made our case for why it’s important to take time off work, and we’ve outlined the positives of time off, and the negatives of overworking. To finish, we’ve decided to leave you with some tips on how to avoid burnout at work by encouraging staff to use their allotted holiday.
- Highlight the importance of sick days: If people on your team aren’t taking holidays, then chances are that they’re reluctant to take sick days too. But presenteeism is detrimental to the workplace. The best way for employees to get better quickly is to stop and take care of their physical wellbeing. Plus, when employees bring their sickness into the office, there’s a good chance they’ll just pass it onto everyone else.
- Lead by example: As a manager, it’s generally down to you to model the kind of behaviour you want from your employees. Employees are less likely to ignore your suggestions if there’s no apparent gap between what you say and what you do. Plus, let’s not forget, managers are only human too. Your team’s output might rest on your shoulders, but that’s exactly why it’s important to take time off work.
- Make your holiday policies clear and accessible: You can spend all day ranting about the importance of taking vacation days, but if your policy around taking time off is an esoteric mess, it won’t make a difference. Booking time off work should be quick and easy. While it’s still important to have managers and HR sign off on employee holiday, it’s still something that you can semi-automate with the right tool.