Do you, or the people in your team feel too busy to take time off from work?

According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of people who did any work from home rose to 37% in 2020 from 27% in 2019.  Although these numbers fluctuated through 2020/21 and have started to drop as restrictions have lifted, there is an increasing call for a hybrid working model of part office and part home, working, in the future.

Over the last 12 months we have increasingly heard from people on our workshops, that booking annual leave has become less of a priority for them, as they have been spending more time at home.  

More recently, as organisations have begun to re-establish, stabilise and/or rebuild, we have been hearing a lot about over-stretched teams, where people feel unable to take breaks, or book annual leave as work has got busier.

We wanted to share some information about why taking time off from work is important and the impact this has in the workplace.

Why is taking regular time off important?

Whilst the human brain has an immense capacity, it is not designed to be constantly “switched on”.  It is now relatively well known that our brain can concentrate effectively for approximately 90 minutes at a time, before it needs break.  This article explains why.

That break is not a ‘nice to have’, but essential to a healthy brain and therefore a healthy mental state.

When we take time off, whether that’s a lunch break, a wellness day, a weekend or planned annual leave, we give our brain the opportunity to ‘switch off’ for a period of time, and in doing so, we enable it to carry out important background processing.

During this “low power mode”, the visualisation and problem-solving areas of our brain are able to work through the backlog it hasn’t had time to process while we’ve been ‘switched on’. 

This frees up mental capacity for us to use to think and reason, to problem solve and solution find, to make judgements and decisions.


Taking time off with the specific purpose of mental and physical relaxation, also has a positive effect on the brain and the body by reducing our stress hormone cortisol and all the symptoms that come with that, as well as increasing happy hormone production. 

What are the specific benefits of encouraging people to take time off?

When we are ‘switched on’ for prolonged periods of time, without giving our brain the opportunity to switch off, it can become over-taxed and tired and if this goes unaddressed, the impact on our work can be significant.

If you’ve read our blog about the stress bucket, you’ll know that human beings need to keep our metaphorical stress bucket at a manageable level in order to maintain a healthy level balance of the stress hormone, cortisol, and our happy hormones (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins).

Enabling this in the workplace, by encouraging breaks in the day and planned time off from work, has several benefits on our mental health.  Those benefits include:

  • Improved cognitive performance

    An overflowing stress bucket can result in cognitive signs of stress, like problems with focus and concentration, organisation, memory, judgement, decision making and accuracy.

    Taking time off, allows our brain the time and space to rest and to recuperate, resulting in improved cognitive performance.

  • Improved mental resilience

    When we are overworked or under rested, our brains’ ability to cope with everyday daily stressors can become impeded and we may find ourselves feeling overwhelmed or powerless, or feeling anger, guilt or fear without cause, being irritable or moody, isolated or lonely and sad, depressed, or even paranoid.

    Taking time off, gives our brain the opportunity to process the cause of these symptoms and to build its resilience to cope with daily stressors more effectively.

  • Improved productivity

    When our cortisol levels are high and our happy hormone levels are low, the impact can be low motivation and even procrastination, leading to us taking far longer over a task than necessary, or not getting started in the first place.

    Taking time off enables our brain to refresh and re-energise itself, boosting our potential productivity.

  • Improved balance

    When we focus predominantly on work, we can start to neglect other areas of our life that are equally as, or more important to us.  We may start to feel like we don’t have time for other interests, and we may experience resentment, as we lose a sense of balance in our lives.

    When we take time off and intentionally engage in things that we enjoy, we boost our happy hormones and as a result, restore a sense of balance to our life.  ​

  • Better relationships

    Part of a reduction in balance, might include less time, or head space for positive interactions with family and friends, impacting negatively on our relationships.

    Taking time off and intentionally spending time with our loved ones means that we not only strengthen those relationships, but also our relationship with those we work with, as our ability to build rapport with our colleagues is better when we are well rested.

In summary, encouraging and enabling people to take time out from work is not only a gift to them, but it is in effect, a gift to their colleagues, their projects, their clients and customers and to the organisation as a whole.

How can we promote regular and protected time off?

Protected time off includes any time outside of a person’s set working hours and might include, evenings and weekends, non-working days as well as annual leave.

With about a quarter of the population still working from home and a possible increase in hybrid models of working, people may be at risk of working longer hours as boundaries between work and home become blurred.

It’s becoming increasingly important for managers to ensure that the people in their team are taking their annual leave in a way that supports the individual’s wellbeing, negating the risk of comprised mental health caused by work related stress and overwhelm, for the benefit of the person and everyone who works with them.

Tips to encourage your team to take regular time off:

  • Encourage and enable people to take a 15-minute break every 90 minutes. If you are a manager, take one yourself to lead by example.
  • Ensure that people take a lunch break and away from their work station and suggest they get outside for a change of scenery or some physical movement.
  • Encourage people to book a proportion of their annual leave at the start of the annual leave year and to spread it out across the year.  Monitor annual leave and ask during 1-2-1’s when they plan to take some timeout.  If you are a manager, do the same yourself to lead by example.
  • Educate people about the importance of rest and relaxation, as well as quality and duration of sleep.

We have heard of companies with policies in place to ensure that people take their annual leave across the year, meaning that people don’t reach the end of the year with their full quota left to take, or with days to roll over to the following year.

Some companies have also incorporated wellbeing days, to allow their people to take time off specifically for rest and recuperation as and when necessary.

What structures does your organisation have in place to ensure that people have protected time off? 

To find out how we can support you with raising mental health awareness in your organisation, or to discuss your requirements, get in touch.

Visit the HSE website for current news about mental health.

IS YOUR ORGANISATION DOING ENOUGH To Promote Positive Mental Health At Work?

Find out by taking our quick Mental Health At Work Quiz This short quiz will take you through the six areas of ‘work design’ that highlight the primary sources of stress at work that, when not managed well, are associated with poor mental health and can lead to increased absenteeism and presenteeism, resulting in reduced creativity, productivity and results.

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