Annual leave: Time to put a stop to ‘rest-shaming’

Resting and re-charging can boost productivity and creativity, so create a culture where taking leave is celebrated

As many employers wind up their holiday allowances for the year, what message do you give out on taking leave? Jonathan Richards, CEO of breatheHR, believes it pays to be positive about taking holiday.

Whether it’s driving down to Cornwall for a long weekend or jetting off to Thailand for two weeks, holidays are an essential and important part of preventing burnout in the workplace.

The benefits are plentiful. From increased productivity, all the way to a longer life span. In fact, did you know that most creative ideas come when we’re in the shower?

It’s not surprising that during these moments where our brains are allowed to wander freely, and we’re not in a pressured environment, that strokes of genius can occur. Whether it’s standing under warm water, walking in the countryside or drifting off to sleep, these moments are incredibly important to our working life enabling us to solve problems, come up with new ideas or simply consider something from another point of view.

Taking time off from work also allows people to have these moments and get a break from the everyday stresses of work; it decreases anxiety levels and simply makes business sense. A recent survey by a holiday company revealed that 66% of UK workers feel more productive after going on holiday.

Culture trip

So why do so many employees still feel guilty for taking their allocated days off? As many companies wind up their holiday year and employees calculate what’s allocated to them, it’s a good time to consider your culture around taking leave.

Research earlier this year by British Airways found that a third of Brits aren’t taking all their annual leave.

There are many potential factors at play here, from toxic cultures whereby success is determined on how many hours you are visible rather than results, through to unstable employment, or expectations instilled from the top. But largely it boils down to culture.

Sadly, many high-profile CEOs are guilty of not taking their annual leave and then bragging about it. Take Wholefoods’ CEO, who racked up over a year’s worth of holiday that he hadn’t taken. There’s also the famous example of Margaret Thatcher claiming that she only needed four hours of sleep each night.

This rhetoric and expectation is dangerous. And simply isn’t sustainable.

The perception that success is determined by the hours you put into work, rather than the results achieved, must change. It’s fuelling this belief that those who do take a well-deserved break aren’t ‘committed enough’ or are ‘unambitious’.

And it could also have a part to play in Britain’s productivity puzzle. Many of today’s leaders treat stress and overwork as a badge of honour, bragging about how little they sleep or how few vacation days they take. We need to shake up this ‘rest shaming’ culture that is plaguing businesses.

And even when employees eventually take their holiday, there’s a growing trend of managers disrupting them.

Setting an example

Our own research found that 36% of business owners admitted to contacting staff while they are on holiday. This might seem harmless or make the manager’s life a bit easier, but it has big knock-on effects for that employee who then won’t be able to fully switch off and relax. One survey found that being disrupted by work while on holiday was more stressful than bungee jumping.

Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington has done a huge amount of research on rest. Feeling so strongly about the subject, she even started a new company that aims to help improve wellness and health by getting more rest.

To change this negative perception of taking holiday, a new culture must be ingrained across the entire organisation and senior members of the team should be leading by example and setting the right precedent.

Solely offering a great annual leave policy is not enough. Companies need to create a positive and accepting culture around taking annual leave too and make it a part of the company culture’s connective tissue that links agility, engagement, productivity, purpose and results.

And, in a challenging and uncertain operating environment, it delivers clear competitive advantage for small businesses.

People are increasingly demanding and expecting that businesses play a positive role in their lives and that of their communities.

And with many high-profile corporate scandals recently, it highlights the huge opportunity for agile organisations and HR directors to stake their claim to a meaningful role in consumers’ lives by putting company culture at the forefront. Culture can make or break a business.

We are all human, not robots with endless supplies of energy. Therefore, your people need to replenish what they expend. So it might be wise to think twice about bragging that you haven’t been on holiday all year in front of the new starter.

Jonathan Richards

About Jonathan Richards

Jonathan Richards is CEO of breatheHR
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