Did you take all your holiday allowance last year?
You’re not alone. One survey discovered that the average UK employee ends up wasting almost a quarter of their total annual leave.
That means with a month of annual leave allowance, you’re working an extra week.
The survey continued, saying that only 50% of employees used their full annual leave allowance last year. And that 44% of employees said they work even whilst on holiday.
But are holidays important? Why is this an issue at all? In this difficult economic climate isn’t it better to show our boss we are so busy and important that it’s practically impossible for us to take time off?
One of the earliest industrial giants to realise that productivity and hours worked were curvilinear and not linear was Henry Ford, who, in the early 20th century, reduced the working week of his employees from 6 days to 5, and from 48 hours to 40. But he didn’t do this on a whim, but rather based on many years of human efficiency experiments.
As this widely-quoted set of productivity experiments reminds us, it has been demonstrated that with a less-than-40-hour-week people aren’t productive enough, whilst a greater-than-60-hour-week gives a small productivity boost – but only for 3-4 weeks, after which the productivity drops sharply and is even less than with a 40 hour week.
Fascinatingly, some of these experiments are in fact the basis of the 40 hour work week (discovered to be optimum: not too much, not too little). Not a result of liberalism, but ‘hard-headed capitalism’.
But, I hear you cry, some of these experiments were nearly 100 years ago! Surely they don’t apply to knowledge workers.
In fact, more recent studies suggest that performance for knowledge workers declines after only 35 hours, not 40. Creativity and problem solving decreases faster with fatigue than manual labour does. Lack of sleep is especially detrimental for knowledge workers.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of reasons to take your holiday. It took me a few years of working to realise exactly how important taking my holidays were, but once I did, I became a passionate advocate not only for myself, but for my team.
Taking your holiday allowance, and giving yourself some ‘fallow’ time is a critical part of self-care, of taking care of yourself
Here then, are a wealth of reasons to convince you to take your holidays this year.
1. Stave off chronic stress
Stress and anxiety are the most common reasons for long-term sick leave, and long working hours with little or no break is a high-risk scenario for this kind of burnout or ill health.
Without more balance in your lifestyle, balance that should include holiday breaks, employees put themselves at risk of coming to an unwanted full stop at work, and taking a long break of sick leave that a couple of weeks from your holiday allowance could have helped to prevent.
2. Connect with others
Relationships are important in terms of our wellbeing. The more hours you work, the less time you have to nurture these relationships – and solid relationships can help you live longer, deal with stress, and be healthier.
Spending time with those you love whilst on holiday will help strengthen the bonds of your relationships through shared experiences. Plus the more relaxed ‘post-holiday you’ is likely to be able to respond to relationship difficulties more easily and effectively, and even be less prone to irritation – essentially, you’re probably a nicer person once you’ve had a holiday.
3. Fill your brain
Most of us have a routine while we’re at work. We see the same people, work on similar tasks or work in the same buildings. Maybe we even eat the same foods.
In order to keep your dendrites bushy – that is, build more connections in your brain, keeping it active, healthy, and slowing the ageing process – we need to challenge ourselves to have new experiences, and learn new skills. This can also help us with problem-solving – the more analogies and concepts we have to fall back on, the more we can see issues or problems in new ways.
On holiday we see new people, in new places, in new ways, and can build new connections in our brain by activities that vary from a cooking class to a walk on the beach at sunset. Going on holiday can be both inspiring and motivating.
(For more ideas on what to do while you’re on holiday, see my beautiful and lively (free) PDF ‘101 Ideas to Boost Your Creativity, Have Fun and Play!’)
4. Be less boring
Our holidays bring us new perspectives, and new topics to talk about. Rather than discussing the same three things with your partner or work colleagues, a holiday break in a new country or even another town can help you to become multifaceted, discovering new passions or enthusiasms.
Moreover, taking time to feed these enthusiasms (such as indulging a love of history by taking a tour of Venice) can give you outlets outside of work, and mental or emotional breaks from stressful situations.
5. Get more sleep
Sleep is one of the most underrated and simple tools for increasing productivity. Richard Wiseman’s excellent book, Night Watch, shows us the less sleep you have, the more error prone you are likely to be, and the more you limit your ability to organise and process information and perform at your optimum level. A holiday gives us the opportunity to wipe out the ‘sleep debt’ that we have probably accumulated by working long hours without breaks.
6. Discover yourself
Who are you?
What are you without work?
Taking your holiday allowance and going on vacation enables you to prepare for times in your life when work isn’t part of your identity – whether that’s due to redundancy, maternity or paternity leave, or retirement. If you have a well-rounded identity before these situations occur, you’re likely to deal with them more effectively.
7. Take a helicopter view
Are you in the right company/role? Do you ever get a chance to sit back and see the wood for the trees? Do you have a sneaking feeling that your job’s not very fulfilling, but you’re always too busy to explore other options?
I know many people like this, and these are also the people least likely to take their holidays – perhaps because they’re afraid of what they might find when they do.
Taking time off gives you the opportunity for a fresh perspective, and to consider the long term – the helicopter – view, rather than being caught up in the daily grind of crises and emergencies.
Who knows what you’ll discover about yourself…
What have you got planned for your next holiday? Share it in the comments below!