Take a holiday for your health

Jenny Leeser
Clinical Director of Wellbeing and Health Promotion
28 February 2019
Next review due February 2022

If you’re finding it hard to take your annual leave, you’re certainly not alone. According to a recent survey, around 40 per cent of UK employees took just half of their annual leave entitlement during their last holiday year. The average employee took just 62 per cent of their allowance.

But taking time off is important for your health and wellbeing. And smart employers know that workers who take holidays are more productive and perform better while at work.

The importance of annual leave

Everyone needs time to rest, relax and recharge their batteries. However much you enjoy your job, it’s good for you to get away and have a change of scenery from time to time. Having a good working/non-working balance helps you avoid work-related stress and burnout. And spending quality time with the people you love can do wonders for your mental health.

It’s important to remember that paid annual leave is not a perk – it’s a health and safety measure. It’s there to make sure that you have a reasonable amount of time to rest and relax during your working year. Remember, you’re legally entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave each year (which may include bank holidays) – so use it, guilt free!

Why don’t people take leave?

There are lots of reasons why some people find it hard to take leave.

  • You may feel guilty giving extra work to your colleagues.
  • You may worry that your work won’t be covered while you’re away.
  • You might feel that having a pile of work to come back to isn’t worth the time off.

And in difficult economic times, you may feel that you need to show extra commitment by being at work all the time. Or perhaps fear that taking time off might affect a promotion or your job prospects.

You may even feel that the whole process of preparing to take leave and then returning to work afterwards just adds to your stress.

Despite all that, taking leave from work to recharge, enjoy a holiday or spend time with family and friends is so important for your physical and mental wellbeing.

A couple taking pictures

How to make sure you use your leave

There are things you can do to make taking leave easier, as well as an easier return afterwards. These tips might help.

Fix dates in your diary. Getting something booked in advance will ensure you take the time off. You’re less likely to change plans if your family, children or friends are involved as part of your holiday.

Plan ahead. If you have very busy periods at work, or a project coming to an end at a particular time, try to plan your annual leave around these. That way you’ll be less tempted to abandon your break because of work pressures.

Make time to do a handover. Talk to the people taking on any of your work while you’re away. Make sure they know what work needs covering, so that you don’t return to a huge backlog.

Let people know you’ll be on annual leave. Make sure your team and other people who you work alongside know you’ll be away in advance. This may help reduce emails coming in over that time.

Switch off. Try not to check work emails or take phone calls while you’re away. If you absolutely must, plan short periods to keep on top of work emails or requests, then put your phone or laptop away. Don’t keep checking your devices, as this will make it hard to stop thinking about work and switch off.

Above all, don’t think of annual leave as an optional extra. Everyone’s entitled to take it, and it’s important for your own health and wellbeing that you do.

A couple is stretching before cycling

Destination fitness

So you’ve booked your annual leave? Now where to go…

Have you considered booking an active holiday? How about a yoga and surf camp, or a cycling holiday along a coastline somewhere? Using your annual leave to travel but remain active can do wonders for both your physical health and mental wellbeing, with the added bonus of sightseeing in a new country.

Need to relax? Wellness and spa retreats aren’t the only way to unwind – and they can be expensive. How about booking a cottage or villa in a remote area, away from the crowds? Sometimes all you need is some peace and quiet, and time to get lost in a good book.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Jenny Leeser
Dr Jenny Leeser
Clinical Director of Wellbeing and Health Promotion

Did you find our advice helpful?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our healthy lifestyle articles.