The Importance of Taking Time Off Work

01st August 2023

Research released at the start of 2023 revealed that only 50% of UK adults take their full annual leave allocation every year. This figure might shock you but for many employers, employees and HR departments it just proves what they already know – time off from work is disastrously undervalued.

Of course, contention around time off from work is nothing new. For every employer who appreciates the vital nature of time off, there is another who feels that a work/life balance is overrated. And for every employee who embraces rest and relaxation as a justified refresh, there’s another who ‘just’ checks their emails while sitting at the dinner table.

Yet science has proved time and time again that restful vacation days, weekends and evenings are critical. Not just for workers’ health but for the health of businesses too.

In this post, we’ll delve into just why time off is so important. Both for employees and employers. We’ll also share some ways you can encourage any reluctant staff to take more holiday time.

What do we mean by time off work?

First off, we thought we’d explain exactly what we mean by time off. Many people are tempted to think of vacation days as the only time off that matters, but a healthy work/life balance relies on more than just long-term breaks.

Having clear, work-free evenings and weekends are equally important. Or, for shift work, time before and after work that is protected against the responsibilities of working hours is vitally important.

In short, you need to be able to switch off completely during these breaks – just as completely as you do during week-long paid holidays.

Mental health days do not count though. They should be covered by paid sick leave – just like sick days for physical illness. Though mental health days may be spent on physical or social activities, this doesn’t make them ‘vacation days’. Those are just important ways to relax and destress.

What are the benefits of taking time off from work?

Whether we’re talking shorter breaks every week, or longer vacations across the year, taking time off on a regular basis can have a whole host of benefits, such as reduced stress for staff and boosted productivity for your business.

In fact, the specific benefits you can see when your employees take more time off include:

Improve productivity

Time off from work brings a lot of benefits to employees, but did you know it also benefits your business? This is because spending time relaxing, socialising or having fun actually boosts productivity during work hours.

From short breaks throughout the day to paid time off throughout the year, research shows that time away from work helps create mental clarity. In turn, this rest increases focus and concentration when you are at work, leading to improved productivity.

Build a more positive work environment

A stressful environment or toxic workplace can have a lot of negative impacts – for employees and businesses. It needs to be avoided, and this is a lot easier when your staff are well-rested and have a good work/life balance thanks to taking regular time off.

Time away from work will help reduce work-related stress, improve mental health and help with stress management. Both on an individual and team level.

Reduce sickness absences

This is another benefit for both companies and employees. Regular vacations help you maintain better long-term health, which in turn translates into fewer sickness absences from work.

It’s all related to the effects of chronic stress on your health. Prolonged stress can weaken your immune system, leading you to suffer from longer and more frequent illnesses. Taking breaks, from work-free evenings and weekends through to longer holidays, helps reduce stress. In turn, this will boost your mental and physical health, lowering the need for sickness absences.

Why are people taking less time off from work?

With such clear, defined and evidenced benefits to taking breaks from work, it is even more shocking just how many people don’t use all their vacation days. And it begs the question of why not?

Here are five of the most common reasons people give for not using their full annual leave allowance:

  • Fear of letting colleagues down
    This is by far the most common reason given. People are afraid that if they take even a short vacation, their co-workers will struggle. This might be due to understaffing or lack of skills across the team but essentially it creates a strong sense of guilt.

  • Fear of their workloads when they return
    A major side effect of an unmanageable workload is having a mountain of work to tackle when you come back. The prospect of this can be enough to put some people off having a break at all.

  • Employers refusing to grant leave
    In the UK annual leave is protected by law, so in many circumstances refusing to grant it is a serious breach. However, employers can ask staff to take leave at alternative times during peak or busy times which can be mistakenly seen as a refusal.

  • Pressure from employers
    Though employers can’t actively refuse to grant leave, employees can be left feeling unable to take a holiday if there is too much pressure on them. This can stem from job insecurity, with people feeling they need to prove their worth. It can also stem from unmanageable workloads. Wherever it seems to come from, it is almost always a sign of a toxic workplace.

  • They don’t realise the benefits
    Some employees think that only a full week or two week-long vacations will bring them any benefit, so small breaks get neglected and odd days go unused. Others aren’t allowed to switch off, and still have to deal with emails, phone calls and other work commitments during supposed ‘holiday time’. When vacation time is trampled by work life, it’s easy to think what’s the point?

How to encourage staff to take time off

The majority of business owners want their employees to be at their happiest and healthiest. After all, this supports both employees AND businesses. If you notice your workers aren’t taking regular vacations or full advantage of their time off, here are some steps you can take.

Clarify your leave policies

Every company needs a clear, concise leave policy and procedure – and equally important you need your staff to be aware of it. When they are, they’ll feel confident taking the time they need, when they need it.

Manage staffing and workloads

As an employer, it is always important you don’t place unreasonable pressure on your employees. When staff are away, arrange for their work to be carried out by someone else so they don’t worry about having to cram their monthly workload into a few short weeks.

If this isn’t possible or practical, make sure they are supported in getting the work done. And make sure any other stakeholders are informed of the delays.

Lead by example

All the benefits of taking time off from work don’t just apply to your employees – they apply to you too! On top of this, one of the best ways to encourage your staff to take time off is to be seen doing it yourself. So use this as a sign to book yourself that overdue vacation, switch on your out-of-office and switch off your notifications and take a well-earned break.

Supporting your staff to be happier and healthier

Paid time off is vital for the physical and mental health of your staff. Encouraging it is likely to have brilliant benefits for your business too. But it’s only part of the picture. 

If you want to give your employees the strongest support possible, our Health and Wellbeing Programme will help protect their physical health further. We’ll guide you on how to go beyond basic employee support to boost their morale and their health. Talk to us today to find out more.

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