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Time Out! Why taking annual leave is vital for our health

Have you used up your annual leave?

The answer will probably be NO!

Charan Sarai, Training Delivery Manager for Thornfields and ILM Centre Manager for FPM is back to continue her discussion on personal well-being. Here she looks at the topic of taking annual leave. Charan has continued to lead on the Mindful Insights Series, and here she shares her thoughts on why it’s important to have good knowledge and judgment about your own self-awareness. She looks at the obstacles that get in the way of taking leave as well as the common themes in practice that can hinder both managers and staff.

As good employers, we know that taking leave is important for wellbeing, resulting (hopefully!) in a more productive workforce who perform well. We all need time to recharge, to protect both our mental and physical health. We need refreshment for our mind, body, and soul—and time away from the day job is vital.

Being self-aware is key, and it goes alongside the skill of self-management. With that in mind, try writing down what it is you want to accomplish and then track it, so you can see your progress (or your sticking points).   

To invest in yourself is crucial to well-being.

Would you agree that it’s easy to get side-tracked and overburden ourselves? These self-inflicted burdens can often slip in easily; checking emails, for instance, and picking up phone messages when you have already left the practice. Worrying about the next day’s challenges (these are very real worries that many of you have shared) instead of shutting off and having some down time. Some have said they take on extra work because they want to be involved with more interesting and exciting things, despite knowing perfectly well that they’re already working at full capacity.

We are used to deadlines (and there are plenty of these in practices!) but the other pressures and stresses we sometimes experience can have a detrimental impact on us if we don’t do something about them. So, my encouragement to you is to take some time to check in with yourself, keep track or use a progress chart, and monitor how you’re doing.

Think about this quote, used by the Harvard Business School:

Benjamin Franklin kept a “balance sheet” of both the assets and liabilities of his personal traits. By diarising any new strength, he believed he could learn from someone else, and marking down any self-perceived weaknesses, he could better assess whether the “net worth” of his character was growing over time.

What’s interesting is that our self-care seems to be the first thing we forget about, or deprioritise. Other business priorities take over and we put off taking our leave, because we want to stay on top of work and be on the cutting edge of new developments and projects.

So, is it time to re-evaluate our work life balance, perhaps? Maybe it’s time to feel good about taking time out.

According to Safe Work SA, work-life balance “describes the relationship between your work and the commitments in the rest of your life, and how they impact on one another.”

Put simply, it's about finding peace and balance between the demands of work and those of personal fulfilment and a happier, healthier life.

What would the mind, body and soul benefits look like for you? The following, perhaps?

You’re entitled to take annual leave…

Its concerning that some people don’t want to take leave, or don’t feel that they’re able to, because of work. This is important to explore. If this applies to you, try writing down the many reasons you feel you cannot take the leave.

Like many people, I get tired and need to step off the treadmill for a while, to refresh and come back energised. After all, there can be serious repercussions to health if we don’t. Studies have found that the stress of work can contribute to increased cardiovascular risks and can also aggravate existing conditions.

Others have shared that they feel they should remain in contact with the practice even whilst on leave, feeling almost pressured to do it.

I ask why? Surely if you are off, you are off! Some managers have even continued to work from home over the last 18 months during the worst of the pandemic, when they were supposed to be switching off.

Other managers who have to deal with the age-old challenges of everyone wanting the same weeks off, (children’s holiday times, for instance, and those who want weeks off just before year end), share the stress that causes.

So why don’t we want to take leave?

  • Well, for some, the leave they did want has been taken away, (or there’s so many dos and don’ts about where you can and can’t visit that it puts them off travelling) so they choose not to venture abroad. Having two weeks in the sun and switching off completely was the very thing that kept them going prior to this. The restrictions and the possibility of having to self-isolate when back means that time abroad is just not possible for some right now.
  • Others feel guilty, believing they have left work for their colleagues back at the practice. Perhaps they can’t face all the work that may pile up whilst they are away and the knowledge that they will have to pick it up when they’re back.
  • Or maybe some of us have simply used work as a distraction from all the awfulness that has happened around the world due to the Covid crisis. You want to help, and working feels like a good way to do that and be in control, especially when you feel powerless to control other factors.

It’s important for health and wellbeing that we take our leave.

  • Have time with your staff and reinforce the message that leave needs to be taken, and lead by example.
  • In your discussions, find out if staff are concerned about certain areas of work that would need delegation to another whilst they are away and make that happen. Do this for yourself too.
  • Reiterate that time off is just that and that staff shouldn’t be checking in and worrying about what’s happening at the practice.

Taking time to care for yourself is important and can have a positive effect on those around you too.

Yes, it’s important that we take leave—not just for us, but for those around us, even if we spend the time at home. Benefits include:

  • A more motivated and incentivised team,
  • A reduction in sick leave,
  • Staff who are on top form, rather than stressed, tired and liable to make mistakes, which in turn could lead to complaints,
  • A team that’s positive and driven,
  • A perfect opportunity to catch up on sleep whilst on leave—good for you and others,
  • Increased self-confidence,
  • Low mood improves,
  • Relationships are strengthened.

The capacity for innovative thinking, effective problem-solving and decision making can be drastically lowered if we work all the time and fail to recharge.

Studies clearly show that people who take their annual leave allowance are much happier. The benefits are obvious, both for employers and employees.

Please take your leave and encourage staff to take theirs.

Rest time is not wasted time, it’s the body’s way of gathering fresh strength.

Hope to be back soon,

Charan Sarai




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