Over the years, there has been a constant stream of research revealing the physical and mental health benefits of taking a break away from the computer screen; whether this is for a brisk walk around the park just outside the office, or a two-week long holiday relaxing in the sun.
Taking a break not only lifts an employee's mood; it also has a huge impact on overall business productivity. It enables an individual to have some head space by giving them the opportunity to step back and reassess. This, in turn, leads to clearer thinking which can ease decision making and increase creativity, helping to give businesses the competitive edge they need.
Giving employees a well-deserved break also leads to improved moral throughout the entire business, which enables companies to both attract and retain talent. After all, happier, healthier individuals are more likely to stay in their jobs for longer. A recent survey found that 54 per cent of UK workers would actually take a pay cut to accept a job that made them happier.
Yet, despite the clear benefits of taking a break, a study carried out last year discovered that nearly half of British workers were failing to take all of their allotted annual leave. This could pose a serious problem for businesses looking to boost productivity and reduce burnout. A tired, overworked and miserable workforce simply will not deliver the best results.
In a world where technology enables us to be constantly switched on; how can businesses ensure that employees are taking the breaks and holidays that will enable them to achieve maximum productivity?
Being present does not equal success
A trend being labelled as ‘presenteeism’ has seen a definite rise in recent years. In our ever-connected, always-on, digital culture it’s quite easy for staff to – often wrongly – associate working, being present in the office or constantly online, with the prospect of a promotion, pay rise or other additional benefits.
Whilst less time spent out at lunch or on holiday equals more time spent in the office, more time in the office doesn’t necessarily equal increased levels of productivity. In fact, being ‘always-on’ tends to lead to the exact opposite, with, a recent report revealing 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; or employees taking sick days when they need to.
More often than not, longer hours result in bad working habits. The simplest tasks can be drawn out unnecessarily, left until the end of the day when everyone else has gone home. Employees staying in the office late will miss out on having a healthy work-life balance, which could even have an impact on their personal relationships with both family and friends. This in turn can often lead to them feeling fed up and resentful towards their employers – impacting the overall business culture and working environment.
But, why are employees failing to switch off and take a break? Many worry they will fall behind or that no one will pick up the never-ending stream of work in their absence. This will mean that they are unable to meet both their personal objectives and the wider business targets which will, ultimately, reflect badly on them as an individual.
Managing the workload
If businesses wish to reap the productivity rewards, they need to empower their employees to take a break away from the computer screen. Part of this process will involve establishing a clear way to manage workloads throughout an organisation. This will mean that employees can take a break without being afraid that tasks will be forgotten about.
This is where collaborative work management platforms can help. In a recent survey, when asked whether tools and applications help to prepare for time out of the office, nearly all UK (92 per cent) respondents said they are ‘very helpful’.
Such technologies bring defined processes to every single 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.
These platforms ensure that everyone working on a project knows what needs to be completed when and tasks can be assigned to individuals whilst remaining visible to an entire team. This helps everyone to remain accountable for the tasks that they are responsible for and also makes it easier to stick to deadlines.
For employees returning from a holiday, these tools can help to keep all communications in one place – reducing the need to trawl through thousands of emails in order to get up to date with the activity that has taken place during their absence. They connect an inbox directly to any tasks so all context and conversations are ordered together chronologically upon an employee's return.
Switch off to switch on
A key objective for all businesses – regardless of size or sector – is to boost productivity levels. However, many are still missing a trick when it comes to encouraging their employees to take a break.
Employees need to understand that taking annual leave and stepping away from the desk to get some head space is healthy, rather than frowned upon. Part of this change in mindset will be cultural, with communication - alongside more senior members of the workforce setting an example – being key to its success. The other part will rely heavily on businesses investing in the technologies that will keep everyone on the same page and ensure that employees feel comfortable leaving the office and signing off.
In our increasingly competitive landscape, encouraging employees to take the breaks that will boost engagement levels and, therefore, overall productivity could be the difference between a business surviving and thriving.
David McGeough, Director of International Marketing, Wrike