How Important is Taking Time Off From Work?

Andrew Buck July 28, 2021

Taking time off from work is essential for productivity, happiness, and employees’ general long-term wellbeing. But too many people fail to recognize the importance of time off, instead seeing it as a luxury for lucky (or lazy) workers.

Outdated attitudes around work see time spent at work as one of the biggest factors for determining a worker’s productivity. This leads to a negative opinion of staff who take time off, and businesses limiting vacation day allowances in their leave policy.

The truth is, time off is a necessity, not a luxury. It gives time to refresh, protects against burnout, and allows workers to focus on a positive work/life balance which invariably leads to being more productive at work.

The content in this article is relevant for both individuals and anyone managing a team. As an individual, you need to understand how taking time off benefits your happiness and the long-term health of your career. Managers and business owners also need to grasp this, as it’s in the best interest of the company to have happy, productive employees.

Read on for more.

Related: Learn how to set up an Employee Vacation Calendar in your business, and the best tools to do it with.

Benefits of Taking Time Off From Work

Everyone in a business benefits when employees are allowed to take time off on a regular basis. Staff are happier, they work faster and with a clearer mind, and are less likely to cause problems or leave the business.

Detractors point to the time and productivity lost when staff are away on vacation (or other types of leave). But in truth, the problems caused by overworked and unhappy staff result in more time lost than any vacation. 

Let’s take a further look at the benefits of taking time off from work.

Lower Risk of Burnout

The negative effects of employee burnout are only just starting to get proper recognition.

There can be many causes of burnout – not just from working too long without time off. But this remains the most common reason for burnout, and the easiest to fix.

Too many people work day in, day out, without time off from work. Some studies produce shocking results – including one that found that 41 percent of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day for the entire year included in the study.

Another study found that one third of US workers go 12 months or more without taking a sick day. These people are either extremely healthy, or neglect to take time off when they need it.

Breaks – whether they are vacation days, personal days, or any other reason for time off – are essential to help you recharge, refresh, and come back to work in a positive frame of mind. Without time off, burnout is basically inevitable.

Increased Productivity

The big argument against taking time off is that too much productivity is lost. Managers don’t want their staff taking time off because of this, and employees are hesitant to take time off from fear they will fall behind on their workload.

Yet studies show that vacations increase productivity. Exhaustion is reduced, as are stress-related health issues.

More studies indicate the same thing – even small breaks are effective in helping people recover from work-related stress and providing detachment from work.

While you’re not producing anything when you’re on holiday, taking breaks means you will work better when you’re back on the job. Over time, this more than makes up for any time lost.

Better Work-Life Balance

Another cause of work stress, low productivity and burnout is the struggle to create an effective work-life balance.

Work-life balance is about having a clear line where you switch off and stop thinking about work. It’s fine to be dedicated to your job, and to be a hard worker, but when work is all that’s ever on your mind, it’s dangerous.

Struggling to unplug from work leads to higher stress levels, and stronger reactions to any problems that arise at work.

The key is balance. You can be “all in” when you’re at work, but it’s vital to have something outside work you enjoy doing, or that you look forward to.

Not taking time off makes it much easier to slip into a point where work controls your life. Conversely, vacations are a great way to force yourself to unplug, and reset your work-life balance when it begins to skew too far in favor of work.

More Positive Work Environment

When staff are happy, the entire team benefits. A workplace full of fresh, happy, positive employees will work better together, and create an environment that breeds more positivity.

In contrast, when people suffer from burnout, they don’t necessarily suffer in isolation. They are likely to project their problems to other people in the workplace, and interpersonal issues are more common.

By simply ensuring that you (or your staff, if you are the manager or business owner) regularly take vacations and stay fresh, you’ll help create an environment that is better for individuals to remain happy and productive.

Lower Staff Turnover

Perhaps the biggest reason for companies to ensure their staff get enough time off is to minimize turnover in the workplace.

When staff are not allowed regular vacations or time off, there’s a much higher chance they will leave the company. For many people, vacation days, paid time off and paid sick leave is valued higher than a raise in salary.

The cost of regular staff turnover is insane. New hires, on average, cost companies more than $4000, and the average time to fill open positions is 42 days. 

You may be concerned about allowing your staff paid time off because of the cost, and the working hours lost. Yet both the time and money you concede by giving staff regular vacations pales in comparison to the cost of regularly searching for, hiring and training new staff.

Time for a new way to manage leave in your business? Flamingo’s vacation tracker is there for you. We help you build a happier, more productive and more focused teams, with efficient systems to manage leave and ensure your staff get the rest they need.

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How Much Time Off is Normal?

On average, workers in the US have between 10-20 days of PTO available to them. This varies depending on several factors, most notably service time and industry.

Long-serving government employees in large organizations have the most time off, while private sector employees traditionally have less.

In terms of industry, non-profits & foundations, utilities and media, printing, publishing & broadcasting are the private industries with the highest PTO averages, varying from 15-17 days per year on average.

Marketing, public relations, advertising, automotive and mining are the industries with the lowest averages.

For more on how much PTO is average in the US and around the world, check out this post.

How to Make the Most of Time Off

While regular vacations are a good thing for everyone, there’s still the matter of work that needs to be done. There needs to be some limit, for the business to continue to function effectively.

For this reason, it’s best to think about how you can maximize the benefit you get out of your time off, so you can feel fully refreshed and invigorated from fewer days off.

A great way to approach your time off is to schedule vacation days on each side of a weekend. This way, you can take a four day vacation from Friday to Monday, while only using two vacation days.

Repeating this every few months is often better than saving up to take one long vacation each year.

You can also do this with public holidays to lengthen your vacation even more. Take time off each side of a long weekend to get just about a week-long vacation without needing to use up seven vacation days.

Finally, the most important thing to maximize the rest and relaxation you get from time off is to ensure you totally switch off when you’re on leave. Too many people go on vacation but continue to check emails, or take the laptop to the beach and catch up on work.

When you let work encroach on your time off like this, you drastically increase the chance of burning out again in a short time, as you’re not adequately getting the space you need to totally refresh.

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Is Time Off Still Important For Remote Workers?

One of the big changes in the world of business in recent years is the transition of many teams to remote work. As such, the question arises from time to time of whether time off is as important for remote workers.

The argument is that, with the greater freedom remote work offers, and the fact that there is no longer an office environment to get away from, the importance of time off from work declines.

This way of thinking is incorrect. Remote workers still experience burnout, and in fact, are likely to burn out faster than those in the office. When you work in an office, you are generally able to detach from work a little each time you leave at the end of the day and go home. For remote workers, on the other hand, the lines between work life and personal life are often blurred.

This leads to struggles establishing a work-life balance and fully switching off at the end of the work day. Many remote workers actually end up working longer hours, because the work day is not as clearly defined.

So, if you’re a remote worker or you manage a remote team, you should understand that time off is even more vital than ever. Try to take frequent breaks, such as long weekends, or even just half a day off here and there, to get away from the home office or the co-working space and switch off from work completely.

The Importance of Taking Time Off from Work – In Summary

A lot of us, either as workers or as managers, believe the best employees are those who work hard, work long hours, and keep working without taking time off.

However, this line of thinking commonly leads to burnout, which can have varying negative consequences, from an eventual drop in productivity to the decision to quit altogether.

When hard work and long hours are maintained over a long period of time without taking time to stop, unplug and recharge, the overall quality of work and performance are bound to suffer. That’s why everyone, from individuals to managers to business owners, need to understand that a business will be better off in the long run when employees regularly take time off.

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