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Why taking time off work is vital to your health and wellbeing

How long does it take YOU to fully unwind from work?

Growing up in the UK, the two weeks we looked forward to the most (apart from Christmas) were the those allocated to the family summer holiday.

We didn’t need to ask where we were going or how we were getting there. The process was always the same. We were bundled into the back of Dad’s Volvo where the three of us kids would wriggle and irritate each other until a gruff “Be quiet!” would emanate from the front.

It would take three days to reach our destination, travelling via the ferry to France, then a couple of overnight stops at some gîtes before arriving at a Spanish villa rented for the duration.

Dad was a vet who took his work and reputation very seriously. Self-made, he had created a successful business, but like many small business owners, worried incessantly about what could go wrong while he was away.

He would spend the whole of the first week, trying valiantly to relax and the second week winding himself up into a frenzy of catastrophe thinking. Would a dog have escaped from the kennels? Would one of the veterinary assistants have made a diagnostic booboo? The last section back home was the grimmest as we all hoped that nothing had ‘happened’ while we were away.

Invariably nothing had, or some minor incident not worth all that worry.

How long does it take you to unwind from work when you go on leave?

 

The need for real R and R.

A study by OnePoll in conjunction with Apple Vacations in 2018 found it takes the average American four days before they can fully stop thinking about work.

Meaning if you take a week off, that only leaves you with three days without work stress.

While a UK study found the answer was four days and eight hours (precisely!) for Britons to fully relax.

And that’s for those who do succeed.

What about you?

Are you someone who has no issue at all switching off as soon as you’re away?

Or are you so tightly wound that you never fully relax at all, or attempt to suave the guilt, curiosity or need-to-know by checking in online and reviewing your emails, telling yourself that’s OK because it’s not really work.?

Wrong.

No amount of justification or rationalisation can overcome your body and mind’s need to fully disconnect from work-related stress.

The reason this is so important is this.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of work-related stress, puts your system under strain, increasing your risk of developing a stress-related physical illness including high blood pressure and heart disease, disrupts sleep patterns and increases your risk of catching the next ‘lurgy’ doing the rounds because your immune system is weakened.

Then there’s the risk of mental mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. Take your pick as mental health challenges is an equal opportunity employer.

Lastly, of course, there’s the very real risk of burnout and the issue here is that your blind spot around seeing that you are too connected to work, means you never fully relax and you’re not fully present, so your partner and family miss out too.

The latest findings from the 2022 “Holiday Season Study” conducted by Slack, the digital HQ for business and YouGov reveals some worrying insights for knowledge workers in Australia where 2/3 of workers state they expect to make themselves available for work, even during time off, and 29% admit they will be checking work-related messages when on time off.

This is despite 8 in 10 managers expressing concern for their employee’s wellbeing, particularly in relation to burnout and are encouraging employees to take time off.

The big issue is the mixed messaging, as a similar proportion of managers also expect staff to be available and to do the email check-ins.

You can’t have it both ways.

 

Why are we overruling health and wellbeing?

There are several reasons, including the obvious that the last few years have been remarkably challenging for many people and businesses. Money is tight, prices are going up and although the workplace market is tight, some remain concerned for their job security.

The ‘I’ll do the “right” thing and make myself available’ comes from a mixture of guilt around knowing there’s a whole heap of outstanding work that isn’t going to go away, and you feel bad at leaving your colleagues to deal with it.

There is a belief that this is a temporary situation, and it won’t be expected of you later. 

Really?

Are we adding to the new normal of expectation here? With so many switched on 24/7, are we losing sight of the need for sufficient downtime and rest?

 

It boils down to choice.

Having the flexibility to do your work when and how it suits you the best is currently highly desirable. When you are aware that you need time off because of the stress you are experiencing, it’s vital you can do this.

If it suits you better to work over the Christmas break because you have factored in vacation time for another time, all well and good.

If you can use the digital tools available that enable you to make it abundantly clear whether “the Doctor is in” or not aka the Peanuts cartoon, this can help minimise the risk of having to fend off unsolicited work-related calls or emails.

Off must mean off.

It’s essential to health and wellbeing and your ability when you are back at work, to do your work well.

Holiday or leisure time is vital for sustaining productivity, creativity and revitalising energy.

How will you be taking time off this Christmas?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, trainer and best-selling author. Her latest book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available for purchase.

If workplace psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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