Take a break: why it is important to create some distance between you and your work this summer

The summer is traditionally a time to take a well-deserved break from work – to recharge the batteries, to get a fresh perspective, and to maintain your resilience in the face of a continuously challenging world.

But when the ability to travel is uncertain, and plans are subject to sudden change, there can be less incentive to take time off.

Employers are alive to this, and many are actively encouraging their teams to use their holiday entitlement. Here we explore why it is so important to take time off even when you cannot travel too far from home, how taking time away from work builds workforce resilience, and how business and people leaders can ensure their employees make time for a break.

The benefits of regular time off

There are well-documented health benefits of taking time off – both from the employer and the employee perspectives:

  • It protects your mental health and emotional wellbeing – with time to rest, relax and forget about the stresses of work.
  • It delivers better physical health. Numerous studies have correlated an increase in heart attacks, heart disease and stroke among people who forego time off.
  • It improves health and safety. For most employed workers, paid holiday is not a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a wellbeing, health and safety imperative. Enabling your employees to take paid time off may be a legal requirement, but it also helps to build a safer, more resilient workplace, with healthy and engaged employees.
  • Your sleep improves. Studies have shown that we sleep better during time off work – helping us to feel rested, improve our immune systems and improve our memory and ability to focus.
  • It helps provide perspective. Everyone needs time away to step back from the detail of work challenges, and to put the working environment into context.
  • It improves productivity and creativity. Stepping away from work rewards you with a better-rested mind, which in turn can engage more areas of the brain and help you to tackle more complex challenges.

But we are not always taking the time we need

Despite this lengthy list of benefits, it probably will not surprise most people leaders to learn that many employees are not taking enough breaks.

A 2019 survey found that three-quarters of UK employees wished they could take more holiday from work, with ‘work and life stresses’ the main motivator for 42% of respondents. – but even when paid holiday is available to us, we do not always avail ourselves of it.

Currently, the usual reasons are amplified; it won’t be a shock to anyone to learn that the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on people’s time off habits.

The results of a YouGov survey published in November 2020 showed that a quarter of workers had ‘much more’ annual leave left than the same point in 2019.

There can be a reluctance to take time off when the options for spending it are limited – but that does not lessen the importance of booking leave.

What can business leaders do?

The good news is that, as a people leader, there is much you can do to encourage your teams to take time off. Whether this is prioritising your own leave, to set an example, or helping your colleagues to ease their workloads and facilitate their own leave, you can:

  • Work with your team to identify who will cover urgent issues while a team member is away
  • Make it clear that there is no expectation of colleagues logging on, responding to emails or attending calls or meetings while they are on leave. Avoid scheduling important meetings when one or more team members are out of the office
  • Lead by example – use your own holiday allowance and demonstrate that you disconnect fully from work when you are away; no answering or sending emails or taking phone calls
  • Be compassionate and understanding around when your team members need to take leave – it cannot always be in line with quieter periods and may be unexpected.
  • Be alive to the fact that life happens, and may impact time off.
  • Ensure workloads prior to and after any leave are manageable – working excessive hours before or on return from a holiday will negate the benefits of being away. Work with team members to help them to prioritise and get projects to a good place before they start their break. Identify who can pick up any business-critical issues in their absence, and help to ease them back in on their return. (This may also have a beneficial side-effect, in helping other team members to upskill or develop skills in new areas.)
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How Aon is helping colleagues to take a break in 2021

Aon’s own people leaders have recognised the challenge of long hours, remote working, and the external stresses caused by the pandemic, and the fact that time off is more important than ever as a result.

Aon has taken action, by declaring a number of global holidays, where the business closes operations and employees are able to take the day off. People and business leaders have also encouraged all colleagues to take their paid leave, despite not always being able to travel too far from home.

And leadership teams have led by example, stressing the importance to everyone of ‘walking the talk’ on disconnecting from the working world; give yourself “permission” to take a break and don’t feel guilty making (and keeping!) your plans. You, and your employer, will benefit from taking a mental break to recharge your batteries before returning to work.​

To reap the benefits of time off, you need to truly step away. Taking calls or checking (and responding to) emails or IMs while out of the office means you're still partially focused on work, not relaxing. This is as true if you’re vacationing in your garden as is it if you are on a quiet beach.

Lisa Stevens - Chief People Officer, Aon

Take a break – and encourage your employees to do the same

​It famously takes at least 21 days to break a habit and disconnect from the everyday. Most of us cannot aspire to a break that long! – but even on a micro-level, taking a break is proven to be good for you.

Doing the same thing for eight hours a day with no respite – whether that’s sitting in front of a screen or working on a production line – saps your energy, reduces your concentration and risks eventual burnout. Just standing up and moving away from your workspace can help – and a longer break brings more numerous and deep-rooted benefits.

Even if our options for globe-trotting are limited this year, the positives of disconnecting from work are clear. Work with your teams to encourage them to take time off, make sure you lead by example by taking your own, and you will reap the rewards in a healthier, happier and more resilient workforce.

You can read more about workforce resilience and how to achieve it in Aon’s Rising Resilient report. And you can test your own workplace’s resilience by completing our Resilience Self-assessment Tool – it’s free and will give you an instant snapshot of your organisational resilience.

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