Despite research continually showing the physical and mental health benefits of taking a holiday, a study carried out last year discovered that nearly half of British workers were failing to take all of their allotted annual leave.

Whilst less time on holiday means more time spent in the office, more time in the office doesn’t necessarily equal increased levels of productivity. In fact, more often than not, it leads to the opposite. Chronic stress – caused by being overworked – is actually likely to eat away at any chance of having high levels of employee engagement and, in turn, a productive workforce.

In our ever-connected, always-on, digital culture, organisations are facing a challenge – how can they ensure that employees are taking their annual leave and having the breaks that are key to overall business productivity?

Breaks can be GOOD for business

A rise in ‘presenteeism’ has seen many workers link being present in the office with the prospect of a promotion, pay rise, or other additional benefits. This ‘always-on’ attitude is also being associated – albeit incorrectly - with both commitment and productivity. Unfortunately, this is a far cry from reality.

In fact, a recent report revealed that around 35 days' worth of productivity are lost per worker each year in the UK through presenteeism. This is compared with just three lost days caused by absenteeism (in other words, employees taking sick days when they need to).

Being physically present in the office doesn’t always guarantee that an employee is fully focused mentally. Often, longer hours result in bad habits when it comes to productivity. Tasks are drawn out unnecessarily, and overworked employees can often end up feeling fed up and resentful towards a company, impacting the overall culture and working environment.

For an employee, taking a holiday – or even just having regular breaks away from the computer screen – can have a huge impact on overall wellbeing.

Not only does it help to establish a positive work/life balance, it also offers an opportunity to take a step back and reassess. Short term, this will lead to clearer thinking, better decision-making skills, and increased creativity. Longer term, it will help to prevent burnout and lead to a happier, more committed workforce.

Everyone knows that healthier, happier employees are more productive. They are also more likely to stick around, enabling organisations to retain valuable members of the team and even attract new talent.

But how can organisations encourage their employees to step away from the screen and temporarily switch off, especially with so many of us reluctant to use the holiday we are entitled to?

The key to unlocking productivity

Often, it’s workload that keeps employees from being able to take a break. Many worry they will fall behind or that no one will pick up the slack in their absence. Understanding this barrier and knowing how to manage it is one of the first challenges for organisations to overcome.

This is where innovative technologies and collaborative work management platforms come in. In a recent survey, when asked whether tools and applications help to prepare for time out of the office, nearly all UK (92%) respondents said they are ‘very helpful’.

Such technologies bring defined processes to every task, becoming the digital assembly line for all aspects of work and keeping associated documents and information about assignments together. This helps to eliminate siloes, whilst streamlining teams, to ensure that everyone is on the same page, no matter who is in the office.

When it comes to deadlines, these platforms help to ensure that everyone working on a project or within a team knows what tasks need to be completed when, so that employees are free to take a break when they need to, without worrying that their workload will be forgotten or end up incomplete.

These tools also make it easier for employees returning from holiday – a key cause of stress for 84% of British workers. Let’s face it: sometimes, even the thought of the ever-growing mountain of emails waiting for someone is enough to discourage any holiday time. But work management platforms keep all communication in one place. They connect an inbox directly to any tasks so all context and conversations are ordered together chronologically upon an employee's return. This encourages employees to fully switch off and relax when spending time away from the office.

Holiday the right way

With a recent report discovering that stress has caused nearly a fifth of UK workers to shut down and become unproductive at work, it’s clear that something needs to change.

The benefits – both long term and short term – of time away from the office can really make a difference to employee engagement and, in turn, overall business productivity.

However, to reap the rewards, businesses need to ensure that their employees understand that presenteeism is a myth and that breaks are encouraged. They also need to support and facilitate employees taking annual leave by investing in technology – such as collaborative work management platforms – which will keep everyone on the same page. This way, businesses can achieve optimal productivity levels, whilst ensuring that their employees are both healthier and happier. 

Next, check out our Ask the Expert with Shashi Kiran at Aryaka Networks, who explores the advantages of cloud-first SD-WAN.