How Important is Taking Time Off From Work?

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck August 8, 2023

My old boss used to say that the two most important things in anyone’s life are their health and happiness. Regularly taking time off from work is vital for both of these areas.

There are many reasons why vacations (or simply short breaks from work) are so beneficial. Furthermore, there are many reasons why it’s in businesses’ best interest to help their employees live a healthy, happy life.

Read on and we’ll explain, in detail, the benefits of taking time off from work and why this time off is not just important for employees, but for the company as a whole.

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The Benefits of Taking Time Off From Work

There are both physical and mental health benefits to taking time off from work. And they’re not just assumed benefits – there has been extensive research and scientific study conducted that backs up how beneficial your annual PTO can be.

Here are some of the top known benefits.

Reduced Stress

Chronic stress is one of the most common issues we face at work. It’s a legitimate ailment, but not often diagnosed as such because of how it shows itself.

Unlike most other illnesses, stress slowly builds over time. It doesn’t show up all at once. Soon, before you know it, you’re overworked, overstressed and burned out.

Vacations give us the ability to switch off and remove ourselves from the stressors of work. Numerous studies back this up. It doesn’t have to be a long vacation, either. Studies have shown that even a three-day vacation can reduce both perceived levels of stress and stress hormone (cortisol) levels in the body.

Improved Mental Health

Further than just reducing stress, taking time off helps improve mental health in general, including improvement in work-related depression and anxiety.

Studies have shown that taking a vacation and engaging in social leisure activities has a positive effect in reducing depression. Another study out of Sweden showed vacation timing coincided with a lower dispensation of antidepressants.

Anxiety NZ says that even mini-breaks, as short as just stepping away from your desk for a few minutes, can help prevent anxiety from building up into more serious mental health issues.

If that’s enough to deliver benefits, a few days off from work can do even more to help employees maintain good mental health.

Increased Brain Power

Taking time off can even boost your cognitive ability. Times of relaxation, such as when you’re on vacation, have shown to be when the brain is in its most creative state. Vacations can lead to increased neuroplasticity, which makes it easier to learn new things.

The benefits are even higher if you take an overseas vacation, as certain studies show that foreign experiences boost cognitive flexibility and the “depth and integrativeness of thought.”

Lower Risk of Heart Disease

One of the most widely studied health benefits of taking time off is the benefit for heart health.

You can find numerous studies that show this link. In one, a nine-year study found that middle-aged men at risk of heart disease had reduced all-cause mortality relative to their vacation frequency.

In another study, women who took fewer vacations were found to be twice as likely to have a heart attack or die from some form of coronary heart disease.

Being able to rest and de-stress can literally save your life.

Better Sleep

Stepping away from the stressors of your everyday working life can help you sleep better. This was shown in a study from Air New Zealand, where participants averaged an hour more of good quality sleep after a few days of being on vacation.

Participants also showed a 30 to 40 percent increase in reaction time, likely linked to the increase in sleep quality. Indeed, improving your sleep leads to a huge number of health and cognitive benefits.

Helping You Maintain a Work-Life Balance

Taking time off also gives you time to spend on your own life, on things that are important to you, such as family, friends and hobbies.

This is important for maintaining a healthy personal life outside of work. Without your work and personal lives in balance, depression, anxiety and just overall feelings of resentment are more likely. Stepping away every now and then prevents this from taking over your life.

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Why Employees Taking Time Off Is Good for the Company

Taking time off is not only beneficial for individuals, but for organizations as well. Here are the top reasons why it’s in the best interest of businesses to encourage employees to disconnect and take vacations.

Improved Job Performance

Despite fear that more time off means less work gets done, studies show that vacations boost productivity.

The positive impact on stress, mental health, brain power and happiness all directly lead to improved performance when employees are back in the office.

When the inverse happens and employees are overworked without the chance to take time off, their productivity drops to the point where more productive time is lost than if they had taken a vacation.

Decreased Employee Turnover

When staff are not allowed regular vacations or time off, there’s a much higher chance they will leave the company. For many people, vacation days, paid time off and paid sick leave is valued higher than a raise in salary.

The cost of regular staff turnover is insane. New hires, on average, cost companies more than $4000, and the average time to fill open positions is 42 days. 

You may be concerned about allowing your staff paid time off because of the cost, and the working hours lost. Yet both the time and money you concede by giving staff regular vacations pales in comparison to the cost of regularly searching for, hiring and training new staff.

Improved Company Culture

When staff are happy, the entire team benefits. A workplace full of fresh, happy, positive employees will work better together and create an environment that breeds more positivity.

In contrast, with cases of employee burnout, employees usually don’t suffer in isolation. They are likely to project their problems to other people in the workplace, and interpersonal issues are more common.

By simply ensuring that you (or your staff, if you are the manager or business owner) regularly take vacations and stay fresh, you’ll help create a workplace culture that is better for individuals to remain happy and productive.

Reduced Sickness and Absenteeism

Too many people work day in, day out, without time off from work. Some studies produce shocking results – including one that found that 41 percent of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day for the entire year included in the study.

Another study found that one third of US workers go 12 months or more without taking a sick day. These people are either extremely healthy, or neglect to take time off when they need it.

The longer employees neglect their health, the more likely it is for chronic health problems to emerge. It’s much better to encourage employees to take a sick day or personal day when they need it, to avoid more serious health outcomes.

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How Much and How Often Should You Take Time Off From Work?

So how much vacation time should you take, and how often?

Workers in the US have, on average 10-20 paid vacation days available to them. Yet, for the most part, a number of these days are left unused each year.

A poll by INSIDER found that 13 days off was the sweet spot where respondents said they took the “right amount of time off”. Yet pressure and pre-conceived notions may make people hesitant about saying they would prefer more.

Research shows that the benefits for well being are maximized with vacations lasting eight to 11 days. In addition, some experts say we should take vacation time on a regular basis, rather than all at once, such as one or two longer vacations along with regular small breaks throughout the year.

While it’s hard to say if there’s an exact frequency and length of vacation that’s optimal, all research shows that we should be taking more vacation time than the US average.

How to Spend Time Off

The final thing you need to know about taking time off is how to spend your vacation time.

It’s imperative that vacation time is actually spent disconnecting from work. Too many people today end up working on vacation, even just small things like checking emails and answering phone calls.

This might not seem serious, but it means you don’t get the full benefits you could from your vacation. Your mind is still stuck on work, so you won’t reduce stress the same way you could if you properly switched off.

When taking vacation time, dedicate this time to activities that you enjoy, or that bring you peace or fulfillment. Even if you’re not necessarily feeling burnt out from work, it’s worth making an effort to fully disconnect, so you can come back fresh after your time off.

Read More: Working while on leave is known as Leaveism, and it’s a common problem. Click the link to learn more about one of the worst workplace habits today.

Final Thoughts

Taking a vacation is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health. From preventing or treating high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues, to improving sleep and dealing with chronic stress, anxiety and depression, you need regular breaks for your long term health and well being.

Make it a regular thing to take vacation time, even if it’s just a few days here and there. Organizations should encourage this as well, as the benefits of having fresh, fully present employees and a work environment with lower stress will lead to better results for the business.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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