hink back to childhood summers. They might have been spent running barefoot after the ice cream van, riding your bike for hours on end, or visiting grandparents by the coast. In other words: care-free.

Fast-forward to now and it’s a very different story. Sure, the majority of us don’t have six weeks to take away from work. But doesn’t that make it all the more important to enjoy the holiday time we do have? And encouraging our workforce to do so?

Yes, but it’s not what us Brits are doing.

The struggle to ‘switch off’ is affecting the UK workforce, and it’s putting employee wellbeing and business performance at risk. A 2018 study conducted by Glassdoor found that only 40 per cent of the UK workforce took their full allocated holiday. Nearly a quarter (some 23 per cent) of the respondents said they checked their work email while away, and 15 per cent reported working while on their holiday for fear of falling behind.

The same survey reported around 15 per cent of respondents had been contacted by their boss about work while away, and 20 per cent said they’d been contacted by a colleague.

While we’re talking data, there are hundreds of studies linking holiday time with boosted productivity. Some report that employees’ productivity increases by as much as 40 per cent as a result of annual leave, with a 28 per cent reduction in sick days.

So with this in mind, let’s talk about what can be done to take guilt-free holidays — regardless of which side of the coin you fall on.

How to have a guilt-free holiday as an employer

1. Stay true to your word. If you’re offering a balanced work/life culture or, say, unlimited holidays, that means enforcing strict parameters for managers and senior leadership to honour and respect these terms.

2. Consider your culture: does your business cultivate a ‘psychologically safe’ environment where employees can switch off? Is the workload or a leadership style inhibiting that?

3. Hiring freelancers to support your workforce during peak holiday seasons can benefit not only employees, but your business’ services, outputs and client relations.

4. Think about what you gain — enhanced productivity, creativity and resilience — when employees take leave. Communicate with stakeholders and leadership for internal buy-in.

How to have a guilt-free holiday as an employee

1. Shorter holidays, closer to home can do wonders. Tag a day or two onto bank holidays to make the most of your time, and factor in busy roads and potential traffic into your journey to reduce stress.

2. Having said that, taking at least one ‘block’ holiday of 7-14 days each year will give you time to unwind, achieve personal goals, visit friends or family, and prepare to head back to work.

3. Think about it as losing money. Annual leave is part of your pay package. You almost certainly won’t be paid extra to work while you’re away, plus you’ll lose money spent on your holiday.

4. It might feel tempting to seem available, but saying you’re happy to work when you need a break will only cause exhaustion and resentment. Before you go away, you might think you can manage a few calls or meetings — but after sinking a few glasses of rosé at lunch you might not! Be realistic and plan in advance to hand over your work to colleagues so you can properly enjoy your time off.

A final word

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it: we’ve missed out on a lot over the past two years. Spending time abroad or in other parts of the UK, with friends and family, or simply roaming London as a tourist are all things we once took for granted, and that we never should again.

Working from home has its benefits, but it can also be much harder for the workforce to switch off when the lines are blurred. This makes it even more crucial to actively and consistently encourage holiday time, not only for business performance, but for your overall health and wellbeing.

Who knows, maybe it’s time we take inspiration from the likes of France, Sweden and other European countries who down tools for two weeks every summer? More on that another time.

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