Taking leave – what do our attitudes to holiday tell us?

It’s a funny thing, annual leave. Some people can’t get enough of it; others dread taking a week or two out of their business.

You would think that most people love that time off that we take each year; a chance to recuperate and unwind, enjoying the spoils of our hard work.

 

Some do, but there are those who either shun taking that time, or actually find it as stressful as they do any point when they are actually in the workplace.

Many owners of small businesses, or even sole traders, are a case in point. They argue that they are too busy, or find the concept of switching off stressful, and that they lack control when they are out of the business. The time off is a gap in their earning potential in which they might miss opportunities, or they feel their clients will see the break in service as a negative indictment upon their organisation.

Holidays can really work to challenge an individual’s values, as well as their sense of importance. It can also examine the robustness of the company model and, indeed, whether someone is in the right business to start with.

And it isn’t only the bosses who feel they are too busy to take a break; many employees often feel the same, particularly if their salary is based upon or boosted by on target earnings (OTE).

If an individual feels they are so special to an organisation that they cannot take legitimate leave, then there is something wrong, either with the organisation or with their own sense of importance. Further problems can then arrive due to stress, related to a lack of work life balance, insufficient downtime failing to allow the mind and body to recover from the mental and physical pressures of their job.

When a member of staff sees not taking their holiday entitlement as an assertion of loyalty, arguing that “I can’t take leave because…”, then there is something awry in their relationship with the organisation. There is something out of kilter with the emotions of the office if people do not feel they can take time off without being compromised.

Another problem which occurs is that people use their perceived, or imagined inability to take leave as a distraction from other problems affecting their lives.

Other people like to save up their holidays, carrying them over into the next year, but again this risks burnout through a lack of down time. Good employee engagement should include an element of pastoral care that does not allow this practise except in exceptional circumstances.

Additionally, people with a tendency to use up their holiday allocation by taking a half day here, a half day there, as much as it might suit their lifestyle, can find they are creating a problem for themselves, as well as proving disruptive to the workflow of the office. Such people do not get the benefit of down time, because they are never away from the business long enough to really wind down. To get the best of time off, to heal and readjust from the stresses of work, people need to get away for long enough to get past those initial few days of wind down.

In neuro linguistic processing terms, leave can be seen as a “break state”, something which is vital to reducing burnout. You have to get away from stress to get the benefit of the time you have allocated to holidays.

On the flip side, you have people who live for the next holiday. They firmly believe that they work to live, not live to work, and the prospect of an African safari, whale watching in the Atlantic, or simply a week at Pontins, is what drives them through the 9-5.

In itself, putting a premium on a holiday in this way can be unhealthy. What if the holiday doesn’t go as planned? This can be hugely demotivating, which is a problem for the individual and their employers.

The continental view, which is held particularly strongly in Germany, is that down time is an integral part of up time. It provides a balance which mitigates the risk of burnout.

The alternative of going without that down time is simply unsustainable for most mere mortals. Someone who can’t put their business or workload down risks not only anxiety issues, but also their own health, with an increase in the chances of sickness occurring from stress or exhaustion. We all know what that means…forced down time

 

The author, Olen Steinhauser, wrote: “Without balance, a life is no longer worth the effort.” It’s worth noting the old adage that nobody is quoted on their death bed as saying they wished they had spent more time at work. However, as we all know, it is the rewards of hard work which allow us to enjoy many of the pleasures in life.

David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken and Vice Chairman of the Institute of Directors’ County Durham and Sunderland Committee.