Rita Trehan: How to avoid burnout by using your holiday allowance and practising self-care

The number of employees failing to take their full holiday entitlement is on the rise; a whopping 77 per cent, according to research from BrightHR. The startling statistic is made worse by the fact that for many people, the opportunity to carry days over into 2020 is not an option. The phrase “use it or lose it” comes to mind.

Failing to take time away from work can be detrimental for several reasons. Without an opportunity to “switch off” or have down time, employees are far more likely to find themselves being less motivated and as a result, less positive about their work and themselves in general. However, the biggest risk is falling prey to burnout.

Burnout is state of emotional, mental and even physical exhaustion, which is often caused by stress, and most commonly occurs when someone is overwhelmed, drained and in need of a break. It can leave an individual feeling demotivated, helpless and even resentful.

Burnout is classed as a medical condition by the World Health Organisation and if left untreated, it can result in a number of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and can even leave your body more vulnerable to common illnesses.

It’s not something to be dismissed lightly and in this article, I discuss why and how companies should be encouraging staff to take full advantage of holiday allowance and practise self-care.

1. Encourage and promote time off from work

Business leaders and HR departments have a key role to play in fostering a culture that promotes self-care and well-being. Emphasising the importance of time off and how it contributes to well-being goes a long way to allay concerns. Demonstrating that the company values its workforce by dispelling fears that taking holiday is viewed as “slacking” or being “disinterested” can go a long way to making people feel comfortable to book the annual leave entitled to them.

Some companies have gone as far as recognising employees who have taken their full holiday entitlement over a certain time period. Incentivising people, such as with cash or another relevant reward, may seem counter-Intuitive, but the reality is these companies recognise that a well-rested workforce is not only likely to be more effective, they are also more motivated and ultimately are less likely to fall prone to burnout. Rewarding self-care and well-being can be a win-win for employers and employees alike.

2. Allow staff to switch off while they’re away

Encouraging people to take time off is only effective if employees are allowed to do that. The “always-on” culture has created an unhealthy habit of staff responding to work messages, emails and calls when they supposed to be on holiday. Mobile phones and laptops have sadly become a holiday accessory that most could – and more importantly, should – do without!

How can companies solve this problem? Simply, by guaranteeing employee’s uninterrupted holidays.

Employee’s deserve the opportunity to switch off when they book and take annual leave, therefore it’s a leader’s responsibility to make sure there are enough people in the office to cover the absence and that staff make use of their ‘out of office’ message, relieving them of the expectation to respond to work-related requests. Even if it’s just half a day, an employee should be allowed to switch off both mentally and physically.

Without being able to completely switch off, staff won’t be able to completely relax and can come back to work feeling more stressed than when they left.

3. Don’t let holiday allowances build up – spread the days out throughout the year

I always recommend spreading holiday allowance out so that you have the opportunity to recharge at different times throughout the year. While it may not always be possible to do so, what’s key is avoiding working none-stop, without any breaks for months at a time. Working in this way can often result in burnout.

By giving yourself the opportunity to spread time off throughout the year, you are ensuring you always have something to look forward to. Not only that; you’re giving yourself regular breaks to relax and unwind.

While employees do need to keep track of their own holidays, it’s also up to leaders to pay attention to annual leave trends and spot when people are allowing it to build up. One way to avoid this, and ensuring employees are using their holiday in the best way, is by making it mandatory for staff to use at least half of their holiday allowance by a set date. Doing so reduces the number of staff trying to cram in last-minute breaks at the end of the working year and people finding there are not enough working days left for them to take their full holiday entitlement.

4. Book holiday when you hit that low period

It’s important to make sure you book holiday during your lowest mental periods. For example, January can be a difficult time for a lot of people; with the whole new year ahead and following the Christmas rush, it can often leave people feeling drained, overwhelmed and in need of a quiet break. I recommend booking time off, whether a single day off or a week abroad, soon after this period.

By taking time off between January and March, you are allowing yourself a break after one of the busiest times of the year to reflect on the previous 12 months and think about the things you have to look forward to in the year ahead (both at work and at home).

This is a common low mental period for a lot of people, but it can also apply at different times throughout the year; if you have a particularly stressful couple of months, plan a holiday or a quick break shortly afterwards. Even a short break, can make the world of difference.

5. Leaders -make sure you set the trend

Most people take cues from their leaders and the actions and behaviour of those at the top of an organisation. If senior leader’s set the right example by not only taking their holiday entitlement, but publicly sharing why it’s important for them personally, companies are far more likely to see their employees follow suit.

6. Don’t be a martyr – in other words, don’t be afraid to take a sick day

Remember that it’s okay to take sick days if you need them – it’s what they’re there for.

In my experience, people often don’t take time off when they’re ill because they think they’re too busy, or they don’t feel like they’re eligible. To put it simply: if you’re sick, you should not be at work.

If you’re feeling unwell but still drag yourself to the office, you risk making others around you ill and you’re unlikely to work to the best of your ability. You need time to recover and by pushing yourself, you can actually prolong your illness.

The same applies for days where you feel overwhelmed and need a mental health day; don’t be afraid to use the time off you deserve and most importantly, the time you need.

As managers of people, HR has a role to play in recognising the pressures that work can have on both physical and mental health. In this digital age, it’s now harder than ever before to switch off and take a real break – burnout is a serious issue in our workplaces, therefore employees, leaders and HR practitioners need to be working together and implementing simply strategies, such as the above tips, to maintain a happy and healthy workforce.