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Guest Blogger

By Gary Bury, Founder and CEO of Timetastic

The hustle and bustle of office life can wear down even the most seasoned of employees. To combat this build-up of mental and physical fatigue, the UK mandates companies to give their employees at least 25 days off plus additional days for government holiday. Now, this would be well and good except for the fact that employees simply aren’t taking this time off.

In fact, the average UK worker uses just 62% of their annual holiday allowance. That’s not a typo: Employees are working for free nearly 10 days per year!

You don’t need me to tell you that this simply isn’t sustainable – for the overall wellbeing of the employee of course, but also for the long-term viability and productivity of the company’s workforce. A happy workforce is a productive workforce.

So what could be the reasoning behind this phenomenon? And more importantly: What’s the solution? Companies can’t force their employees to take time off…

…Or can they?

Work healthier, not harder 

Now, who doesn’t love a holiday? As much as companies would like to think that their employees don’t take their entire allotted holiday allowance because they just love working so much, many employees don’t take time off because of deeply ingrained cultural bias that tells us that we need to be slaves to the corporate grindstone all the time.

For an example, look no further than media mogul Elon Musk, whose work ethic has reached almost mythic proportions – clocking in at 80 to 90 hours per week. You can see the problem here: The media tells us that if we put in the effort, we too can be successful like Elon.

This is preposterous, of course. You’re much more likely to find yourself in an early grave than a multibillionaire if you work over 80 hours a week. But still, the stigma holds.

So how do we fix this?

First, we need to get rid of the perception that working more is better. We need to stop working extra hours to impress a boss and prioritise our own personal well-being. As the old cliche goes: work smarter, not harder – but what about working healthier, not harder?

There’s actually science behind this: The more one prioritises their mental health and well-being, the stronger a worker they become. This makes sense when you think about it – can you recall the post-holiday feeling, blissful and full of a renewed sense of motivation to complete all your tasks?

Benefits are equally large for the employer as well – especially when it comes to the all-important bottom line. A happy workforce means reduced staff turnover, which can be incredibly costly for a company’s time and money. And contrary to popular belief that more work equals more output, a well-rested and motivated workforce typically outweighs a burned-out one in terms of productivity – even while working less!

Actually treating minimum as a minimum

An additional factor that leads to less holiday time is the failure to view the minimum days off as an actual minimum amount. That’s right, currently, companies will give someone a maximum allowance of 25 days off plus bank holidays – which is actually the legal minimum allowance.

But what if we stopped viewing this minimum as a maximum and started giving out more than the 25 days mandated by law?

To do so, we need to start reconsidering what the core purpose of holiday time is. If looked at as a bare minimum way of keeping workers happy, it’s no wonder it isn’t taken seriously. But imagine if holiday days were used as a vital means to boost worker productivity and positively affect a company’s bottom line – companies would make sure that each and every employee took every single one of their days off.

If all else fails, a little nudge out the door doesn’t hurt

While the vast majority of companies in the UK still aren’t doing enough to encourage days off, there are a few companies that are experimenting with various forms of allowances. Just as with anything in life, the perfect balance – gained through trial and error – is needed.

Buffer, a software application designed to manage accounts in social networks, is a good example of this. Using a flexible time off policy, employees are able to take as much or as little time off as they want, and are encouraged to go on holiday as needed. Most significantly, they have a dedicated “people team” that works to make sure that everyone is able to enjoy some relaxing time throughout the year.

Doist, a productivity startup, is another example of a company working towards finding the right holiday policy for its workforce. With employees located across the globe having different national holidays, they struggled to find the exact system that would be fair for everyone. And so they settled on a system with a set 40 days’ holiday, with employees allowed to use them however they liked.

But the most innovative part of Doist’s strategy? Each of the 40 holiday days is obligatory.

You heard that correctly: employees are actually forced to take all their days off.

So how exactly does a company like Doist mandate these days off? Well, most important is an easy way of having full visibility of absences so you can plan better, identify trends, and spot who’s not taking enough time off. If this is automated, even better.

Rest and relaxation is an important part of the human experience. When taken away, it has the potential to burn even the most hardened of employees. When cultural stigmas prevent people from taking time off, it’s up to the company to make sure they are refreshed and productive – it’s the best situation for everyone, so why is it so hard? In 2020, it’s important to promote time off – even if you have to force the matter.

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