Summer means holiday for many of us around the world, and a new study shows that people in the UK are among the most likely to actually take their paid annual leave, which is actually a very good thing for both physical and mental health. YouGov conducted research on the topic, studying the annual leave habits of people in countries around the globe, and a full 75% of people in the UK said they plan on taking all (or nearly all) of the paid leave they have coming to them this year. Apparently, annual leave is something that we see as a valuable job “perk”, a fact that was confirmed in a survey of 1,720 employees conducted by Xexec, which found that 43% of them chose “additional annual leave” as the benefit that would make them feel most appreciated at work

Research Shows That We Need Our Annual Leave

On the other side of the pond, Americans tend to have a nearly opposite approach to time off. As many as 54% of US employees forfeit at least part of their annual paid leave for fear that they’ll be replaced by “harder working” or more dedicated employees. But according to Psychology Today, nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, taking your paid leave — and escaping your routine and its stress for a period — can actually make you a better, more productive employee!

That’s because breaks from work can have the potential to break the “stress cycle”, allowing us to emerge from our leave feeling ready to take on the world again. We gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a much-needed break from our usual routines.

Not Taking Annual Leave Could Backfire

You may think you’re giving your career a boost by forfeiting earned time off, but you may actually be doing yourself more harm than good. Ever hear of professional “burnout”? It’s a real thing, and working too many hours without balancing career time with leisure time can hasten its arrival. Studies have shown that annual leave can take an employee from the verge of burnout to a renewed level of interest and dedication to her work. What’s more, the benefits of “de-stressing” via a week or more of vacation can last for up to a month after returning to the job.

Interestingly, “burnout” isn’t the only danger of spending too much time at work and not enough time away from all the responsibility that having a career and personal responsibilities entail. All that stress can affect your physical health by robbing you of restful sleep and keeping you in a constantly keyed-up state until an actual illness manifests. Running on empty can compromise your immune system, making you more vulnerable to colds and flu, and can also make you more prone to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Balance, it would seem, isn’t just an ideal, but an essential part of a healthy life, both personally and professionally-speaking.

The Value of Taking Mini-Breaks

Apart from your annual leave, there are things you can do throughout the year to reduce work stress, recharge and do better work no matter what your profession is. Here are a few ways to help to reduce work stress in the short-run:

  • Take breaks during the workday. Workers who do report better motivation, more energy, and an improved ability to concentrate on their work.
  • Take a brisk 10-15 minute walk before eating your lunch. It’ll help burn off accumulated stress and still give you 30-45 minutes to sit and enjoy your lunch.
  • Consider taking an occasional “mental health day”. You don’t have to call in “sick”, you can simply say that you have some pressing personal matter to attend to. (You don’t have to say that the “pressing matter” happens to be that you’re simply over-stressed. After all, it’s a “personal” matter!)

In the end, you’ll be doing yourself — and your employer — a favour by taking your annual leave entitlement, and taking care of your mental and physical health. In other words, by creating some balance in your life, you’re ultimately making yourself better at your job — and a happier and healthier person in the bargain!

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