• Emily Gibson

Work Hard, Rest Hard

Why it’s more important than ever to take time off seriously

So much to do, so little time. Has there ever been a more demanding time to be in management? Tough decisions and extra admin together with uncertainty about the future mean a tough working environment.

Modern working life no longer dictates an image of an exec team who fit golfing and long weekends away around their occasional meetings. Instead you are visibly present, noticeably grafting and always there for your team. Do you find yourself saying “I’m off tomorrow, but call me if you need anything”?

It’s great to be a role model for commitment and passion, but have you considered the impact of the way you work on the up-and-coming members of your team, especially those who are noticeably driven?

What does being a great role model look like?

Your working patterns set an unspoken expectation for the rest of the people in your business. Working until 10pm each night and skipping lunch might not seem so bad to you, but do think about the subconscious bar you are raising each time you stay a few minutes late.

The idea of a committed workforce is appealing. But setting an example that says ‘sleep is for losers’, risks damaging the health of your workforce, displays a culture of inflexibility and will result in poor performance. It’s a cycle that’s surprisingly tough to train you and your team out of!

It’s really important to be aware that society is changing. Employees nowadays have different expectations for their working lives with corporate social responsibility being high on the wish list for job seekers. Parents increasingly want flexibility to spend time with their children and especially given the year we've had so far, everyone has one eye measuring their work life balance.

By creating a business culture that unintentionally pressures employees to work long hours, you risk losing good workers and limit the attraction and retention of diversity in your business. All this can cause significant delays to business innovation and growth.

And if that doesn’t convince you, be mindful that it is government policy to encourage a healthy work life balance. The working time regulations have set limits for working patterns and legal rest breaks on shift, between shifts and for holidays.

Why is rest important for your business?

Too few of us acknowledge the importance of rest and downtime on our health. Working without a break has been proven to increase fatigue, stress and affect workers’ physical and mental health. This doesn’t just apply to roles where scheduled breaks are part of the working day such as catering and manufacturing. Office-based employees who work through their lunch breaks or respond to emails during the evening and weekend are also at risk. Why? They never get a chance to switch off.

If the extra hours are temporary, for instance due to a seasonal peak, then our bodies can cope. Problems begin when this behaviour becomes the norm. Over time, a lack of rest can cause very real health problems. And with that comes increased employee absence and lower productivity. Tiredness contributes towards poor decision making and mistakes. Your business becomes less effective and open to costly errors.

As a manager, you can directly influence how likely your staff are to take breaks and look after their health. It’s great to tell your team to take their breaks and assure them that health & wellness is a priority, but they will always follow your lead.

From sending emails in the evening to cutting holidays short, you do what you need to do to make your business thrive. But be mindful of the impact of your working pattern on the team. Many individuals will feel the need to be as present as you are, whether it’s responding to a text you sent at 10.05pm or checking their emails whilst on holiday to avoid a backlog. Working lunches, evening emails and weekend text messages start to become the norm and before you know it your business has developed a 24/7 working pattern.

Exhausted employees who develop health problems because of work-related stress are entitled to seek compensation. Tired employees who accidentally cause damage or injury to others create rework, add costs and extra stress directly to others in your business.

So, what can YOU do to emphasise the importance of rest and recuperation, despite juggling a hectic schedule of your own?

YOU can lead the way towards a more balanced working pattern

Healthy working environments aren’t built overnight. But as a leader in your business, you are in a uniquely powerful position to affect your employee’s health and wellbeing in and outside of working hours.

Here are three ways you can encourage a better balance between work and rest in your business:

1. Prioritise health and wellbeing with your business policies

  • Clearly communicate the importance and need for regular rest breaks at all levels. Make it clear that “playing the hero” by skipping breaks, regularly staying late or cancelling holidays is not acceptable.

  • Allocate holidays when staff don’t make bookings to ensure employees take time off throughout the year. This will mean everyone has the opportunity to fully recharge and spend time on outside interests.

  • Emphasise the importance of outcome vs. hours to avoid 'presenteeism' sneaking into your business. Something as simple as emphasising “we work smarter not harder” is a good way of getting the message across.

  • Encourage employees to activate their out-of-office during leave and redirect email or voicemails to another member of the team.

2. Lead by example

  • Be seen to take time for breaks, whether that’s lunch with your team or a walk after a long video call. This tells your team that taking time for a break is important for everyone.

  • Respect the policies you’ve put in place. Avoid booking meetings with your team over lunch or late in the day, and be sure to take your own holiday allowance, even if you are just going to be at home catching up on the gardening.

  • Use flexible working to show that balancing your personal life and work life is relevant no matter who you are. Some employees, especially men, are hesitant to take advantage of flexible working policies because they fear it makes them look uncommitted. Show them this isn’t the case.

  • If you are working late, schedule your emails to send at 9am the following day, so that you’re not ‘visibly’ working late. This way your team won’t feel tempted to respond at the same midnight hour!

3. Set and communicate clear boundaries

  • Make it clear you respect that employees have a personal life that’s separate to work. Perhaps you will encourage or insist that work mobiles are switched off during rest periods and at the end of the working day.

  • Encourage employees to clearly communicate their commitments so others can plan around them and work effectively. If it’s December, make sure your team have logged the inevitable school plays so everyone knows what’s happening and can work around these plans.

  • Set up policies that prevent work-related emails or messages at the weekend. This gives everyone the chance to switch off properly and return to work fully revived. By knowing it’s unacceptable to work during rest time, your staff will feel valued and cared for. In turn you will receive commitment, loyalty and high performance when it matters - in the working day!


So what are the rules for rest breaks & holidays

Workers aged 18 and above are entitled to 3 types of break. These are rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest. Breaks do not have to be paid. Paid breaks depend on a worker’s employment contract.

Workers are also entitled to paid holiday, known as statutory leave entitlement.

The entitlements are:

  • an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes when daily working time is more than six hours. The break must be taken during working time. It cannot be taken either at the start, or at the end, of a working day.

  • a rest period of 11 consecutive hours in each 24-hour working period

  • one day off a week; this can be averaged over 2 weeks

  • 5.6 weeks of annual leave per year for full time staff. Part-time employees and workers with irregular hours are entitled to a pro-rata holiday allowance in line with their working hours.

The rules are stricter if you employ young workers – classified as employees under 18. Their entitlements are:

  • a 30-minute break if they work more than four and a half hours at a time

  • a break of 12 uninterrupted hours in each 24-hour period in which they work

  • 2 days off each week. This cannot be averaged over 2 weeks.

  • young workers have the same holiday entitlements as older workers

Exceptions to these rules are:

  • employees who choose the hours they work or who have no set hours

  • air, sea and transport workers

  • coach and lorry drivers

  • the armed forces, emergency services or police.

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