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Whether you’re going abroad on a sunny beach holiday, taking a road trip to explore the countryside, or simply planning on curling up with a good book at home, periods of rest and relaxation are vital to keep us feeling happy and healthy. They can help revitalise our health, refresh our minds, and boost our overall wellbeing. That’s why it’s so important to use up our annual leave allowance and encourage our teams to do the same!

In this blog post, we’ll be exploring how you and your employees can best plan for and use your annual leave, making the most of every day off. Prioritise rest, having fun, and taking a complete mental break from work, preparing yourself to return to your role feeling mentally and physically revitalised.

The Importance of Taking Time Off

Taking time off can help you and your team recover from work-related stress and the pressures of professional life to focus on yourselves, your interests and hobbies, spending time with your loved ones, and having a complete mental break from the fast pace, demands, and worries associated with your job. The bottom line is that taking your full annual leave allowance is crucial for caring for your mental and physical health and wellbeing in both the long and short term. The benefits of taking regular breaks include:

Improved Mental Wellbeing

A break from the workplace can help you and your team regulate your stress levels, reduce your anxiety levels, and prevent burnout or exhaustion. This is because the opportunity to decompress and take your mind away from work-related tasks can help reduce the levels of cortisol in the body (the stress hormone), and allow you to nurture and care for your mental health by resting and doing the things you love.

At Thrive4Life, we offer MHFA England-accredited Mental Health First Aid training. This training equips delegates with an MHFA accreditation as a Mental Health First Aider with the skills and knowledge to offer in-house support to any colleagues struggling with issues like anxiety, burnout, stress, or depression. Mental Health First Aiders can provide the rest of the team with advice and guidance on how to de-stress and boost mental wellbeing. After your delegates have completed this programme, they can also follow up with our experts for organisation-specific advice, a training refresh, and the opportunity to learn new techniques with our advanced Mental Health Skills Development course.

Improved Physical Health

Rest and relaxation allow our bodies to recuperate and recover from the effects of stress-related cortisol spikes which keep us trapped in a constant “fight or flight” response, potentially disrupting our sleep patterns, putting us at risk of heart issues, and weakening our nervous systems. Even the simple opportunity to take your mornings a bit easier and catch up on sleep can strengthen your immune system, allowing for necessary cellular repair and reducing your susceptibility to colds and viruses.

If you’d like to keep track of you and your team’s physical health markers, you can sign up for our 15 or 20-minute “Know Your Numbers” Mini Employee Health Checks. These health assessments are carried out at your workplace and aim to improve participants’ understanding and awareness of their health by measuring key health indicators, such as blood sugar levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, and BMI (our 20-minute assessments provide an even more comprehensive overview of participants’ health by measuring more of these indicators). These check-ups can give each person better clarity surrounding their health status. For example, they can tell you if you need to lose weight, are at potential risk of developing diabetes, or if it’s time to lower your blood pressure with regular mindfulness, yoga, and other calming activities.

Higher Levels of Productivity

A well-rested mind is a more creative, motivated, and alert mind. Time away from work can help you and your employees return to the office with fresh perspectives, new ideas, and more energy to problem-solve, pitch strategies, and tackle roadblocks. Even a short holiday can help “unclutter” the mind from worries and anxieties, restoring cognitive capabilities for problem-solving and creativity, and creating more mental space.

A Better Work-Life Balance

Regular annual leave helps break the monotony of the day-to-day work schedule, with the long commutes, busy calendars, and stressful deadlines that often sit alongside it. Taking time off promotes a healthy work-life balance, allowing you and your team the space you need to focus on the personal, not the professional, for a while.

Annual Leave Statistics from 2022 and 2023 show that most UK employees don’t use up their full quota of annual leave. Out of the 1,469 working adults surveyed by Censuswide, less than 40% use all their annual leave allowance. 1 in 10 of these employees did not feel encouraged by their management to take time off. These figures emphasise the need to share the benefits of annual leave with your employees and encourage them to take up their full leave allowance – no one should be feeling guilty or like they’re being a nuisance because they’re taking a holiday.

How To Get the Most Out of Your Annual Leave

Plan ahead and schedule your activities, travel plans, and relaxation time in order to get the most out of your time off.

At Thrive4Life, we recommend that you:

Plan ahead

Schedule chunks of annual leave at the beginning of the year, taking into account weekends and bank holidays to get more time off for your annual leave allowance, and making sure to leave some unallocated time for anything that might crop up that you need or want to take time off for (e.g., weddings, family events, last-minute trips, or just in case you need a bit of time out at any point during the year to recharge). If possible, try to spread your leave throughout the year, planning for regular periods of leave and long weekends to ensure you don’t burn out as the year goes on. You can also plan to take time off during the off-season and non-holiday periods for a more relaxing experience with fewer crowds and more cost-effective travel options. However, you don’t have to be going abroad to book time off…

Take a Staycation

Just because you’re not going abroad doesn’t mean you can’t still have a relaxing and restful annual leave – you don’t have to pay for an expensive holiday or catch a flight anywhere exotic. A staycation, i.e. a holiday spent at home or somewhere in England, can provide all the rejuvenating benefits of an abroad holiday while saving travel time, money, and the stress of planning an extensive trip. You could explore the countryside, drive to the beach, or even book a hotel or spa experience in your city to enjoy your time off from the comfort of home.

Log off from work!

Having a digital detox can do wonders for your mental health. We all know how tempting it can be to reply to that email or take that one quick call, but if you’re still picking up work communications, you’re not really on leave. To maximise your annual leave’s recharging power, you and any of your employees who are going on leave must completely unplug from work. Research from HR consultants has revealed that around 23% of UK employees on annual leave continue to check their emails and keep an eye out for work-related updates, despite being on holiday! Stepping away from work means stepping away from emails, calls, and messages, no matter how hard that feels. You should encourage your team to set boundaries and delegate responsibilities in advance to avoid intrusions or disruptions during their time off.

Prioritise rest

It’s tempting to fill your annual leave with travel, physical activities, and social commitments, but it’s essential to achieve a balance: socialising and travelling can help us relax and replenish our energy levels, but shouldn’t come at the expense of the downtime that allows us to relax our minds and bodies and fully recharge. Having some quiet time might mean spending an afternoon walking, curling up on the sofa with a good book or your favourite TV show, or having a nap to catch up on sleep! Prioritising rest can help tackle the problem of ‘vacation deprivation’ – a very real phenomenon when workers don’t take enough time to rest while on annual leave. Vacation deprivation can thus see you returning to work exhausted by travel and constant activity instead of feeling refreshed and ready to go again. Remember to set aside time to rest and restore your energy levels in between the fun things you’ve got planned.

Unused annual leave is a serious roadblock that impedes better nationwide employee health and wellbeing. 2022 studies by both Expedia and Glassdoor highlighted how UK workers fail to utilise their annual leave, only taking about 22 days on average. Only 60% of UK employees used their full leave allowance, whilst only 34% said that their employer/management actively encouraged them to do so. The recommendations above can help encourage your employees to plan and utilise their full annual leave, avoiding burnout and enhancing productivity.

Planning for Annual Leave: Guidelines For You and Your Team

Adequately preparing for annual leave can prevent work-related interruptions to your time off and allow you and your employees to leave work without stress or worry. The following guidelines can help you plan your own time off and assist your team in preparing for their own holidays:

  • Communicate with the team: Any team member planning to go on annual leave should let their colleagues know in advance. This will allow you and your employees to share workloads, delegate tasks, check any shared work calendars, and organise significant meetings around people’s availability, facilitating a seamless transition of responsibilities while that person is away.
  • Set an out-of-office response: To fully unplug, take your minds away from work, and make sure everyone knows you’re off, anyone going on annual leave should set an out-of-office response to emails, their work phone, Slack/Teams, or other instant messaging tools. The response should include your leave dates, expected return date, and an alternative point of contact for any urgent matters. An out-of-office response template could be shared across teams/departments for everyone at your organisation to use.
  • Tie up loose ends: Try to delegate the next steps for projects, wrap up deadlines, and finish and submit any unfinished work before taking time off. This will reduce the likelihood of you being contacted for work-related issues during your holiday. You should do the same with members of your team before they go away, checking in to see where they’re up to with certain tasks or deadlines and helping them complete any urgent projects.
  • Familiarise yourself and your team with company policy: The company policy for annual leave should be easily accessible and shared with all employees across departments. This should include details on the leave allowance permitted, notice periods, handover procedures, and guidelines for emergency issues. You should continue to familiarise yourself with these details before taking leave and share them with any employees planning to take leave to allow them to plan this.
  • Wind down: Prepare for your time away by slowly easing off work-related pressures. This should mean completing projects in advance, where possible, rather than submitting them on your last day of work. You should also factor in some downtime, plan for your time off, and think about what would help you to rest and relax while off

According to Access People HR, all industries in the UK have seen a drop in the amount of annual leave used over the past 2 years, dropping by 2.7% despite holiday entitlement increasing by 16.5%. This is a serious concern and underscores just how important it is to nudge our teams to take regular time off for their wellbeing. If staff members are not encouraged to take their annual leave, companies risk higher rates of employee burnout, stress, anxiety, and subsequent sick leave.

In Summary

The health and well-being benefits associated with taking regular annual leave cannot be understated. As highlighted in this blog post, time away from work can boost our cognitive abilities, counter physical and mental fatigue, strengthen our immune systems, and help us return to work with renewed zeal and energy. From disconnecting digitally to planning holidays ahead or even simply prioritising sleep, the recommendations and strategies highlighted above can help you and your employees maximise your annual leave.

So, perhaps it’s time to book some time off?