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Don’t feel guilty about taking time off this summer

By: Alistair Cox, Chief Executive, Hays on June 15th, 2021

It’s that time of year when the office can often be divided between those debating which factor sun cream to pack and those for whom the very thought of a day off sends them into a blind panic.

Whichever group you fall in to, if, like me, you are preparing for a holiday this summer, it’s important not to feel guilty about it. Having a proper break, one in which you can really switch off, will not only make for a happier, healthier workforce, but impact the bottom line too. And there is no exception to the rule, however senior you are.

It’s certainly no coincidence that employee ‘well-being’ has migrated from the margins to the mainstream over the past couple of decades. Progressive businesses, particularly those in the technology sector such as eBay and Google, have grasped the impact it can have on creativity, productivity, and ultimately profit.

Taking a well-earned respite from the latest initiative or strategic priority is a key ingredient to effectively nurturing versatile and productive teams. I know from my own experience that spending time with family and friends, or simply getting lost in a good book, ensures that I return to work more energized, with a fresh perspective and new ideas.

There is no denying that in today’s globalized, technology-driven world, we are all more busy and connected than ever, making it harder to switch off and tear ourselves away from our to-do lists. For those of us who feel guilty about taking time off, this is a nightmare. It compounds the feeling that we should be ‘always on’ for work, and this feeling doesn’t suddenly go once you are sat on the plane. Businesses, and leaders in particular, need to work harder at helping employees down their tools and take a break.

Give your employees a break

Encouraging a ‘holiday-friendly’ environment in your workplace is key to ensuring employees relax and enjoy their time away from the office. While I’m not saying every business needs to take a leaf out of Sir Richard Branson’s book and offer employees unlimited leave, there are a number of ways, in my experience, that business leaders can ensure their teams invest time in getting away from work:

  • Create a guilt-free zone: creating a culture in which taking a break is encouraged, rather than frowned upon, is crucial. There can often be a cloud of guilt hanging over the holiday request – it feels like a bad time or perhaps it might impact an upcoming pay review? Let’s face it, if you are a competent, proactive and motivated employee, when is a good time? Encourage management to monitor and check in with teams to ensure annual leave is being taken and seek out those who feel that ending the year with 20 days untaken holiday is a badge of honour.
 
  • Prescribe a digital detox: last summer, one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, Daimler, said it was automatically deleting emails landing in inboxes while employees were on leave. While you might not need to go that far, encouraging a culture in which employees are not expected to reply to emails while on leave can have a huge impact. I appreciate not everyone will feel comfortable with this so, at the very least, agree on a process if you desperately need someone (a text or phone call) or perhaps suggest employees have one email check-in during their break.
 
  • Take an interest: taking a genuine interest in colleagues’ lives outside of work, including what they did or are about to do on holiday, can not only help develop closer team bonds and boost morale, but encourage a pro-holiday atmosphere.
 
  • Lead by example: ensuring top management, including the CEO, are leading by example and taking the time to relax and switch off will set the right impression and encourage others to follow suit. While leading from the front will send the right message, it’s also essential to speak to team leaders and HR to ensure the right processes and policies are in place too.

Why should this all stop at annual leave though? Encouraging employees to take regular breaks during the day, to give their minds time to relax and refresh is hugely beneficial too. In fact I was only reading the other day how a US healthcare business introduced a mindfulness and yoga programs for its 49,000 employees in 2012 and not only found a 7% drop in healthcare costs but employees chalked up an additional 65 minutes of productivity a day.

Unfortunately, many of the same challenges around taking and enjoying annual leave exist in today’s workplaces – employees often feel that they must be perceived as being ‘always on’ to show they are dedicated and working hard. This is nonsense, and in fact reduces development and productivity.

Not only does investing in employee well-being have a positive impact on boosting productivity in your teams, it is also increasingly important in attracting and retaining the best talent. In fact, many of today’s best candidates rate it as important as a good salary when evaluating their opportunities. So, go on, take a well-earned break this summer, and encourage your teams to do the same. It’s more important than you might think.

For more advice from our recruiting experts – contact us now

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