Careers advice: How taking time off can benefit your career and wellbeing

17 July 2019

Alumni Careers Manager Caroline Egan discusses how taking time off can benefit your career and wellbeing, and how you can achieve a work-free holiday this summer.

It’s that time of year again: summer holiday season. Whether you’re jetting off to the sun, hopping on a cruise, or enjoying a ‘staycation’, a 2018 Glassdoor study reveals that there’s a strong chance you’re going to bring your work laptop and you’ll actually do some work.

Two in five UK employees polled reported taking a maximum of just half their annual leave entitlement during the last holiday year, with the average employee taking just 62 percent of their allowance. Of those that did use their allowance, 23 percent regularly checked emails, and 15 percent continued working through fear of falling behind and the consequences of not hitting their targets.

So why aren't people enjoying the privilege of paid holidays? Is it ‘fear of switching off’ and is it all in our heads?  Although some UK employees may be using their annual leave, it seems that they’re still not managing to fully unwind. Only half of the employees polled by Glassdoor said they could completely ‘check out’ and that there was ‘no expectation to be reachable.' However, 20 percent of the UK workforce said that they were expected to be reachable and aware of work issues if needed.

If you're in your first job or set on making a good impression in a new role, you might be tempted to avoid long holidays, and only take short breaks. Even if you do plan to take all of your holiday, an unmanageable workload or unexpected project may mean it's not always possible. And once the year is up, your unused days off may be lost, although some employers allow staff to carry over a small proportion of their annual leave.

Although not taking proper holidays may seem harmless at the time, or even helpful to your career, it can also be damaging. There’s ample evidence to show that you become less productive without proper breaks. Even if people work longer hours, they're not as creative and can't maintain the same intensity level, which can eventually lead to ill health, burnout and higher staff turnover.

While leaders and managers need to model healthy behaviours,  it's important not to rely on your boss to manage your breaks, especially if you're part of a large team. While good leaders will recognise when an employee needs a rest, no one knows how you're feeling better than you.

"Employees need to have candid conversations with their managers about how they can achieve a better work-life balance and book their remaining time now to avoid burn out further down the line", said John Lamphiere, Glassdoor’s Managing Director, EMEA.

"The fact that 40 percent of us take a maximum of just half our holiday allowance and a significant amount feel they need to work while being away is not a good long-term solution and will only result in employees who may want to jump ship for greener pastures. Take a day to plan out your holidays, create a schedule which works for you and your employer, then stick to it. If you don’t do it now, it may never happen.”

If you’re planning your summer vacation, try hard to completely disconnect. The key is planning ahead and communication. Here’s some quick advice for how to achieve a work-free holiday:

  • Find out the busiest times of year in your company and try to arrange your time off around those, to help you feel you really can switch off. Ask what’s expected of you while you're away to avoid tension around going away.
  • Put in for your leave as soon as possible. Once your request is approved, tell your team and make it clear that you’ll be unreachable.
  • Be proactive before your vacation by discussing a back-up plan with your manager. Be prepared with a number of options about who can bear which responsibilities while you’re away.
  • Create a helpful 'out of office’ reply. Make sure that people who email you while you’re on leave have access to resources and to someone else on your team who can help in your absence.
  • Ensure your back-up person is primed to cover for you. Plan in adequate time to brief your back-up and spend time with them. Your goal is that you and your manager feel confident that your job is competently and capably covered in your absence. The better prepared your back-up is, the easier it will be for you to relax while you’re away.

As our retirement age creeps upwards and we'll all be working for longer, think of your career as ‘a marathon’ rather than a ‘sprint’– we need to avoid getting burnt out, so taking your leave is essential for survival and success.