The 12 Days Of Christmas Leave: What You Gain From Making Your Employees Take a Break

Transforming Culture

20th December 2021

On our weekly company call recently, we were all reminded about the importance of taking annual leave, and the fact that many of us had failed to take it all with only a few weeks left in the year. The message was clear: please take the days you are owed. Is it one that companies don’t always emphasise enough? 

Despite the fact that we are all fully versed in the productivity and wellbeing benefits of R&R, we are also guilty of failing to prioritise time off in our busy schedules.

Research by Glassdoor found that the average employee takes just 62% of their time off. Of those who do take their full holiday entitlement, 15% continue to work from home during this time. Now, due to the rise of remote working coupled with restrictions on other aspects of our lives, this problem has only gotten worse. 

With the festive season upon us, there is a particular spotlight on taking time off- some even having annual leave enforced as offices close- but making the most of our holiday allowance is important all year round. 

Taking time off shouldn’t be a luxury

It is misguided to believe that your employees’ annual leave is none of your business, because the effect low leave take-up can actually have on your wider business is immense.

Of course, workers are not children who should be forced  into some downtime, and affording them the autonomy to control their work/life balance by selling/buying annual leave or carrying days over into the next year is generally good, flexible sense…However, if such programmes are over-used or the number of days properly being taken off chronically low, it might be time to reflect on why that is and whether or not you are creating an environment that allows for the whole person.

Here are the FranklinCovey 12 days of Christmas leave, and what your business stands to gain from helping  your employees to take their full holiday entitlement by the end of the year.

Day 1 – Reduced sickness absence

Overworking leads to a lack of opportunity for self-care, and an increase in stress. It’s no secret that stress can have physical and mental health implications that can lead to sickness absence. By ensuring employees take time to recharge their batteries, you are playing your part in safeguarding their health and wellbeing for mutual benefit.

Day 2 – Increased productivity

Productivity is impacted by mood and perspective. A rested mind and body have more to give than those depleted of energy. An employee who feels taken care of by an employer is more likely to give freely of their time and effort than one who feels tired and overlooked.

This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life- investment in ourselves. – Stephen R. Covey

Day 3 – Creativity and innovation 

Taking time off work doesn’t mean employees aren’t thinking about work. Time out can give the opportunity to think, address issues from alternative perspectives and angles, and stimulate creativity outside of the daily pressures of work. Novel and diverse experiences increase cognitive agility and flexibility of thought. Additionally, a state of relaxation boosts brainpower. Neuroscientists attribute this to the reason why we get our biggest “a-ha!” moments in the shower. We need time to switch off to get our best ideas.

Day 4 – Talent acquisition

Your employer brand – the reputation of your business amongst past, current and prospective employees – has a tremendous impact on your position as an employer of choice for top talent. There’s a global skills shortage and a fierce war for experienced candidates. Make sure your reputation for investing in the wellbeing of your employees and leading with flexibility precedes you.

Day 5 – Improved relationships

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and professional relationships are no exception. Stress and tension can result in fraught relationships and terse exchanges. When staff don’t take their annual leave, they can demonstrate increased irritability and adopt the perception that they are the only ones committed to the work. None of which is conducive to building collaborative, effective teams. When people take a break, gather perspective and put distance between themselves and work for a while, tolerance and resilience are able to flourish. 

Day 6 – Renewed motivation

Hyrum Smith, the co-founder of FranklinCovey, explained that our motivation for activity can be categorised into three classifications. What we have to do, what we ought to do and what we get to do. When work is relentless, it can soon feel like something we do out of obligation rather than desire. A break can be all that is needed to then break the cycle, and transform work from a chore into a pleasure again. We gain perspective and are better able to recognise ways in which we are privileged, enabling us to reframe our relationship to both work and home life. 

Day 7 – Increased retention

One way to drive your employees out the door is to make them feel overworked and underappreciated. A workforce with great work-life balance, rich experiences outside of work and employers who care about them have better morale, and morale increases employee retention. UNISON claim that businesses with positive work/life balance see just under a fifth of staff looking to leave each year compared to over a quarter in organisations with inferior work/life balance.

Day 8 – Lower stress levels

Stress is the enemy of productivity. The notion that we need stress to be effective is old-fashioned. Yes, many personality types thrive under pressure, but long-term exposure to stress hormones like cortisol negatively impacts brain performance.

Day 9 – Fewer mistakes

Fatigue-related mistakes can cost your business its reputation. In many fields, accidents can be life-threatening. Employers must do what they can to ensure employees take the time off they need to improve their cognitive processing. Research by UNISON shows that staff who take their full annual leave are 38% less prone to workplace accidents and 28% less likely to take sick leave. That’s pretty compelling. 

Day 10 – Smarter employees

Taking time off from the norm improves cognitive function in multiple ways. First, it improves sleep quality, which has been shown to increase the capacity for absorbing information. Providing the mind with varied experiences and environments necessitates switching off autopilot. We are automatically more present and more alert and stimulated when we are experiencing novelty. 

Day 11 – A culture of recognition and consideration

Enabling and encouraging employees to take their holiday entitlement is part of demonstrating a genuine interest in their personal wellbeing. Making it possible for employees to switch off from their jobs is more than just providing a paid holiday entitlement  – it’s about creating a culture where annual leave is celebrated, not resented. There must be a system in place that provides mutual support and cover so that people can take a break without returning to work with a chaotic workload and overflowing inbox. Ensuring business continuity during annual leave benefits the entire organisation. We dive deeper into the importance of recognition to a competitive culture in a previous blog, check it out here

Day 12 – Trust

When leaders take annual leave themselves, it demonstrates trust and confidence in the team. Likewise when leaders encourage and enable their direct reports to take time off, it cements a sense of mutual respect, understanding, and recognition of the hard work they do, as well as the fact they have lives outside of it. 

Compassionately remind your employees that their holiday entitlement is just that – and entitlement. It’s a right, not a luxury, and the benefits can be felt across the entire business. Make it easy for your employees to take their leave, make sure it is possible for even the most typically indispensable roles to totally switch off, and ensure leadership sets an example.

When employers invest in making employees feel they are not just a cog in the machine, but a person whose wellbeing is valued as much as their contribution to the bottom line, that’s when the magic happens. 

Your organisation’s success depends on strong individual performance. Download our guide Manage Your Energy to Do Your Job Well: 5 Tips to Constant Self-Renewal for practical insights into often side-lined actions that transform our ability to perform- based on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.