The sand was hot underfoot, almost scalding—a thousand tiny pinches at the soles of my feet. Like navigating hot coals, I uncoordinatedly hopped with random rhythm towards the water’s edge, soon standing on firmer footing, wriggling my toes in the wet sand dotted with shells and small stones. My face to the sun, I was glad for the sunscreen I’d applied as I felt the rays beat down but the breeze that caressed the overarching coconut trees gave gentle reprieve. The ocean that stretched out as far as I could see beckoned with each wave softly crashing onto the shore and was crystal clear yet had a turquoise hue. As I waded out further with outstretched arms until the warm glistening water lapped at my shoulders, I spotted a slow moving but beautiful yellow and black striped fish with a very long top fin float by, followed by a curious brown turtle no bigger than a dinner plate. To think I might have missed out on all this.

Aloha! I’ve just this week returned to work from spending 10 balmy nights in stunning Hawaii. It was annual leave I was encouraged to take and only grudgingly agreed to, but it appears I’m not alone in my reluctance to relax. According to a 2016 study by Expedia, Australians receive 20 days annual leave on average each year, but only take around 15 days. As staff forgo 25% of their annual leave, it therefore comes as no surprise that Expedia’s research also found that 50% of employees feel holiday deprived.

We all know the saying, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,’ but it can also make Jack bored and boring. Rather than position you well for praise come performance review time, not taking annual leave can actually be more damaging than beneficial for both employer and employee and impact productivity levels and staff morale (as well as a company’s financial liability). By taking annual leave, Expedia’s study revealed that a staggering 90% of employees felt less stressed and more relaxed. 89% felt happier and better rested, whilst 83% felt that they were more focused at work when they returned.

Early in my career, a mentor shared with me his interesting view on the importance of taking breaks—when referencing a colleague who was always working late and who never seemed to take their leave entitlements, I made comment about their impressive work ethic but was quickly corrected by this mentor who said when he sees someone consistently working after hours and not taking their leave, he didn’t find it admirable but more a reflection of their poor time management skills and harmful to their mental health. Whatever your view, it was certainly food for thought that our well intentioned slaving away to advance our careers may in fact be doing the opposite.

So why are we so reluctant to get out of the office? Is it down to a heavy workload? Is it the challenging economic climate? Is it the 6.6% unemployment rate in Geelong? Do you feel you can’t take certain days off, or are you afraid of what your colleagues may think of you if you take time off? Is stockpiling your leave a financial safety net? Or do you fear that taking time off might affect a promotion or your job prospects?

There are lots of reasons for finding it hard to take leave. But it’s not an ‘optional extra’ or a ‘bonus’ but rather a legislative entitlement and important for your own health and wellbeing (as well as the health and wellbeing of relationships with your family and friends) that you take leave to recharge throughout the working year.

According to Allison Gabriel, Assistant Professor of Virginia Commonwealth University who studies job demands and employee motivation, workers have a limited pool of cognitive resources and constantly draining them results in a decline in performance and decrease in productivity. Problem-solving tasks can become excruciatingly hard and lead to poor decision-making. Taking time off lets workers restore their cognitive resource pools, and when an employee is well rested, they can think and perform at their best. Furthermore, creativity can be enhanced when employees take time away from work to pursue ideas of their own. ‘Workplace stress can lead to headaches, increased anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, increased drinking and reduced work performance and productivity’, say Grant Cairncross and Iain Waller, the authors of the study ‘Not Taking Annual Leave: What Could it Cost Australia?’. One ‘area that is acknowledged as helping reduce workplace stress is the utilisation of holidays and annual leave’.

It’s important not to forget that time off allows you to rest, relax, recover, and rejuvenate. It encourages a healthy mental state, helps recharge creative juices, increases productivity, maintains our relationships with others and prevents stress related illnesses and accidents. We should work to live not live to work and its key to a sustainable and balanced lifestyle that you give just as much thought and attention to your personal life, as you do with your working life. So, make sure you spend those 20 leave days you get each year, because the cost of not doing so could be a high price to pay.

— Lauren Hogan
Director People & Talent
Fruition Recruitment

How to maximise that annual leave and when to book (Victoria): 

June 2018
Swap four days annual leave for a nine day break
When to travel: Saturday, 9 June – Sunday, 17 June
Public holiday: Monday, 11 June (Queen’s Birthday)
Days to book: Tuesday 12 June; Wednesday, 13 June; Thursday, 14 June; Friday, 15 June

September 2018
Swap four days annual leave for a nine day break
When to travel: Saturday, 22 September – Sunday, 30 September
Public holiday: Friday, 28 September (Grand Final Day)
Days to book: Monday, 24 September; Tuesday, 25 September; Wednesday, 26 September; Thursday, 27 September

November 2018
Swap a day of annual leave for a four day break
When to travel: Saturday, 3 November – Tuesday, 6 November
Public holiday: Tuesday, 6 November (Melbourne Cup Day)
Days to book: Monday, 5 November

December 2018
Swap seven days annual leave for a 16 day break
When to travel: Saturday, 22 December – Sunday 6 January
Public holidays: Tuesday, 25 December (Christmas Day); Wednesday, 26 December (Boxing Day); Tuesday, 1 January (New Years Day)
Days to book: Monday, 24 December; Thursday, 27 December; Friday, 28 December; Monday, 31 December; Wednesday, 2 January; Thursday, 3 January; Friday, 4 January

PS: It also helps if you have an amazing travel agent to choreograph your annual leave adventures, and I am indebted to the incredible (and local) Kate Trickett of Travel Counsellors for organising my time away in Hawaii. Dealing with her was such a breeze, I highly recommend her and you can get in touch with Kate here.