Why taking a holiday is good for your career

by Claire Merrick

20 July 2017

For most people, summer means sunshine and time off. However, as we reach the peak of the holiday season, you might find yourself wondering how you'll make it onto the ferry without working even longer hours in the build up to your big break.

An unmanageable workload or unexpected project might mean that you’re considering shortening your break or cancelling your holiday altogether. Not taking proper holidays may seem harmless at the time, you may be thinking that it will help your career, but it can also be damaging to your health. "Evidence shows you become less productive without proper breaks. Even if people work longer hours, they're not as creative and can't maintain the same intensity level," says Penny de Valk, managing director of talent management at global HR services group, Penna.

On the other hand, you may be feeling quite smug with your holiday booked, packing started and pet boarding organised. But whether it's fear of missing out on important developments or simply not wanting to be out of touch with colleagues, many people still can't seem to switch off when they finally do take leave. One survey found nearly half (44%) of employees reported doing some work while on holiday[1].

So why do people find it difficult to take annual leave even when NHS systems and process encourage regular breaks from day to day work.  Stevan Rolls, head of human resources at Deloitte UK, says: "I think it's mostly just a habit people get into and find hard to stop. I can't think of any organisations that would encourage people to do this, but it can easily emerge in the culture between team members when the pace of business is so fast."[2]

If you, or a member of your team need encouragement to take a proper break, here's my top three reasons to give yourself a good dose of rest and relaxation this summer:

  1. Sharpen the saw

    Getting ready for your holiday often means good planning and communication. Having conversations with key stakeholders and direct reports as early as possible before you’re due to take a break and talking about what is expected while you’re away can sharpen your delegation and effective communication skills. If you find yourself preparing pages of notes or inviting people to call/ email whist you’re away it may be worth encouraging stakeholders and team members to take greater responsibility and ownership. Stephen Covey talks about ‘sharpening the saw’[3] and most of us can continually improve our delegation and effective communication skills. Preparation for our annual holiday can be a good reminder of the importance of these key skills and a helpful prompt for us to improve our toolkit.

  2. Gain a new perspective

    Getting away from the day today, even camping in the rain in Cornwall, can give us a fresh perspective. Looking at things differently can enable us to make better decisions and choose better courses of action. Occasionally a break away can enable us to see things so differently that we spot a solution to a ‘wicked’[4] problem. With business transformation and leading change a key part of solving the ‘more for less’ conundrum facing the NHS our annual holiday can be a great way to shine a light on new ways of getting stuff done. 

  3. Rewind, fast forward

In a normal working day in NHS finance there’s often so much being thrown at a senior finance leader, all at the same time, so much to process that we struggle to deal with it all. Yet there is good research to show that the brain needs downtime to stay industrious and generate the most innovative ideas. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets," essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. "The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."[5] A pause over the summer is key to building our resilience for the next 12 months. The pace is likely to continue once we return from the summer break so it’s critical to rewind a little before the fast forward begins again.

So, whatever floats your boat: activity holiday, staycation or quiet cove make sure that you and your colleagues take a break this summer. It’s good for you and your career.

If you or a colleague find it hard to step away from the day to day you may want to consider working with an HFMA Executive Coach. A coach can help you to reflect on what’s getting in the way of booking your perfect break, help you to priorities your own needs and identify manageable steps to get you booked on a break before the weather turns chilly again. 




[1] https://www.theguardian.com/careers/careers-blog/why-taking-holiday-work-good-career

[2] As above

[3] https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php

[4] https://hbr.org/2008/05/strategy-as-a-wicked-problem

[5] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/

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