For many of us, a large portion of our day is spent at work; in fact, the average worker will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime (1) . It is therefore safe to say your job can make a huge impact on your quality of life.

From our first employment contract onwards, arguably one of the more important clauses after remuneration is the annual leave allocation. To some their annual leave is so important that they plan their year around regular breaks. For others, the thought of taking a break from work fills them with fear.

In this insight we are looking at the importance of annual leave for our personal health, for our workplace and how it differs around the world.


Considering what feels like increasing workloads, annual leave can be a far from a relaxing thought. However, an all work and no play approach can reduce the capacity for innovative thinking and effective problem solving dramatically.  Studies show that people who take their holiday entitlement are more productive and happier (2). Holidays offer many benefits for employees, as well as businesses, as discussed below.

Organisations have a responsibility to ensure their staff take their leave, and company directors themselves should lead by example.

To quote Dr.Seuess ‘ When he worked, he really worked but when he played, he really played’.

Populus Select Managing Director Sim Hall has just returned rejuvenated from two weeks’ annual leave during which he enjoyed time away with his family & friends sailing around the Greek Isles. This is the longest holiday he has taken since founding the company 12 years ago.

He said that sailing in itself required teamwork. But being part of a flotilla of 12 boats was a great example of teamwork. They had a goal for the day – to get to a certain destination. Each crew found their own route, depending on their own goals for the day – stopping for lunch, having a swim, visiting a particular place.

Annual leave for our lifespan and health

The thought of taking time away was daunting but has proven to be the perfect tonic. It is a great thing for our MD’s health: one piece of research found that middle-aged men who took more holidays were more likely to still be alive at the end of its nine year study (3) .

Clinical research company, based in Cambridge ,UK, found that consistently working more than 48 hours each week may shorten a person’s lifespan by as much as nine years. Furthermore, it found that for every hour worked over 48 hours in a week, on a consistent basis, could take as much as 2.25 years of a person’s life expectancy (4) .

As well as physical health, your mental health can benefit for the break as the biggest cause of depression is actually workplace pressure and a build-up of stress and anxiety.  One causal factor is the working environment and  its cumulative stress.  Mental illness has been shown to be the number one cause of long-term sickness in the workplace.. In the UK it costs businesses millions pounds every year.

Workplace pressure in  the public, private and even the third sector, can lead to employees handing in their notice as they are unable to cope with their stress or tiredness.

The ideal break offers relaxation, control, mastery and mental detachment.

“Don’t think having an otherwise healthy lifestyle will compensate for working too hard and not taking holidays,” said Professor Timo Strandberg, of the University of Helsinki, Finland. “Vacations can be a good way to relieve stress.”

Global differences

The number of annual days’ leave varies greatly around the world, for example the average American worker can expect 12 paid days  off each year compared to 27 for someone in Britain and 30 for someone in Germany. (5)

However, things are changing. Ernst & Young an accounting firm with locations all around the world, gives its Australian employees six to twelve weeks of “life leave” each year to travel, work part-time, or simply to do nothing (6). Kate Hillman, people partner for Ernst & Young Oceania, said the policies are an effort to “address a growing demand for flexible work environments in general, as millennials are driving demand for flexibility, as their preference for diverse and stimulating career experiences overrides traditional workplace structures and timelines.”

Here are our top reasons why we should respect our annual leave….

  1. Re charging your batteries – 8 hours + of work a day for 30 years of your life is going to have just one result and it is not good. Periodically we humans need a rest. So take your allotted annual leave and re charge your batteries.
  2. Be more creative – When you are in the work mindset your brain is focused on your ‘to do list’ and rarely do you actually have time to be creative. When you are on annual leave you actually do get the time to think. It is important to understand that time away from your work can indeed spark some life into your blood again.
  3. Your passion and enthusiasm returns- Despite people thinking vacation starved co-workers are the most dedicated, it is not actually true. They become trapped into the routine and the enthusiasm and passion actually declines. Rest assured when you take a break your commitment, passion and enthusiasm for the role will return.
  4. Business will carry on without you- there is such a thing as been ‘business critical’ but there is no such thing as ‘person critical’. The business will function fine without you when you go on a well-deserved break.

and to be frank…nobody goes to the grave wishing they had worked harder!