Health and Wellness

Why it's still important to take days off work, if you can, while in lockdown

Getty Images | Tim Robberts

Taking a day off might not seem like a priority in the midst of a global pandemic, particularly when widespread lockdown measures have limited downtime to the confines of our own home, but experts say not taking any time out could actually be detrimental to productivity. 

"While Sir Isaac Newton came up with the theory of gravity working remotely during the Great Plague of London (no pressure there), he also didn't have people accessing him 24/7 on Zoom, WhatsApp and email," said Anna Whitehouse, founder of Flex Appeal, a campaign pushing for flexible working for all. 

No one can work non-stop and be productive, particularly in the context of a global pandemic, she said. 

"You need to take a break before you break," she added, saying that while it may not be the vacation abroad that you hoped for, downtime regardless is not just a "nice to have," it's essential. 

Fear over job security might also be stopping some from taking time off. The coronavirus, which latest figures show has now infected nearly 2.5 million people worldwide, has forced many businesses to close temporarily in line with lockdown measures.

 The financial strain of closures has resulted in wage cuts and job losses for a number of workers. 

Asking for a day off could therefore seem like a huge ask, when the stakes feel higher to perform professionally and taking a break doesn't seem like a priority. 

People found the task of booking vacations stressful even before the pandemic hit, with Totaljobs finding that nearly a quarter of workers have struggled to book time off, believing work comes first. 

This was according to its poll of 7,135 U.K. workers in 2017, which also found that just over half of people said they had to take time off at specific times to suit their employer. 

Ellie Green, jobs expert at Totaljobs, said that dealing with new stresses in these exceptional times means taking care of your mental wellbeing matters more than ever. 

"If that means using up some of your holiday allowance and doing what you can to relax or do something you enjoy at home — you can," she said. 

Burnout and recovery 

Vacations and time to detach from work at the weekend are important in enabling us to sustain performance, productivity, creativity and prevent burnout, said Simmy Grover, who lectures on organizational psychology at University College London. 

"You can't have sustained periods of stress without burnout unless you're recovering," said Grover, adding that although the ways people recover from a day of work have been constrained by lockdown it is important to still find a method to detach

She also emphasized the importance of mentally detaching from work on days off, including the weekend, in order to ensure we are actually rested when returning to work. 

Grover cited a study of schoolteachers which found that those who were burning out experienced feelings of stress in the evenings and at the weekends. 

Media mogul Arianna Huffington made a similar point in a recent blog post on leadership during the pandemic for Thrive Global, her technology company aiming to support individuals struggling with stress and burnout. 

She said that while "athletes were the first to recognize that recovery is an essential part of peak performance," the same principle rings true for everyone. 

"When we do take care of ourselves, we see benefits to our physical and mental health, performance and productivity," said Huffington. "When we don't, we pay a price: innovation, creativity, resilience, empathy, decision-making and team building are the first to disappear when we are burned out and depleted." 

She referred to comments made by Ellyn Shook, chief human resources officer at consultancy firm Accenture, who initially worried that taking a daily walk in lockdown would take her away from her responsibilities. 

Huffington said Shook then reframed it — "instead of viewing her walk as self-indulgent, she came to see it as a way to recharge herself — and as a result make better decisions and be a better leader."

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