From Burnout to Better Health: Why Taking Time Off is Non-Negotiable

A female employee sits an top of a mountain enjoying the view after building resilience during the climb.

Both leaders and employees deserve to take time off work to destress. Ask yourself – when was the last time you took a day to recharge? If it has been a while, this is your sign to plan time off soon. Not taking a vacation may hurt your overall health.  

According to the World Health Organization, it’s estimated long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 percent increase since 2000. The trend is only increasing, something Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General blames on rise of remote work. “Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease.” 

It’s also been shown through numerous studies that long hours negatively impact mental health and, in some cases, lead to burnout which can turn into (or exacerbate) anxiety or depression. 

Taking time off work isn’t counterproductive, and it’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity and something that leadership should encourage (and also lead by example.) And while there’s risks associated with overwork and burnout, there are tangible health benefits in taking advantage of all the PTO (Paid Time Off) you can, like lowered stress levels, improved productivity, and a better work-life balance. 

Why not taking time off is bad for health  

With the rise of inflation, and the demand to keep up with expenses, more people are working harder than ever, and for longer hours. And it’s having a serious impact on their overall health.  

Research conducted by the WHO also revealed that working 55 hours or more per week contributed to a 35 percent higher risk of stroke and a 17 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease.  

Because of this, employees need more support from their employers, and workers are starting to see it. In a 2023 Workplace Wellbeing Trends Report by the American Psychological Association, 71 percent of employees believe that their employers are increasingly invested in their overall wellbeing. 

One way employers can support workplace wellbeing is to encourage workers to take vacation time, and not leave any days on the table, which happens more often than not. According to a study by Qualtrics, Americans tend to have over a week (9.5 days) of unused vacation time by the end of each year.  

Employers are also increasingly providing employees with digital resources to boost overall wellbeing and decrease burnout. LifeSpeak Mental Health & Resilience, a product of LifeSpeak Inc., offers numerous resources and microlearnings to help employees find a better balance between work and home life. In one such resource, LifeSpeak Inc. expert Chole Sesta Jacobs shares several benefits of booking time away from work to reset mental and physical health.  

“While work is important, it should never come to the detriment of our personal wellbeing and overall happiness,” says Sesta Jacobs. 

What are the tangible benefits of taking time off work?  

Sesta Jacobs, who is also the Global Director of Inclusion and Engagement at Deputy, shares that taking time off work helps reduce stress, increases overall wellbeing, increases productivity, builds a better work-life balance, and helps people reconnect with loved ones.  

Stress reduction  

Work inevitably adds to the stress of daily life. An American Psychological Association study revealed that vacation time improved mood and reduced stress and anxiety. Even a day or short leisure trip can reduce cortisol levels, the hormone associated with producing stress in the body. 

Some people may go on a relaxing vacation during their time off, and others may book time at the spa or with friends. But time off can also be about doing less, and not structuring time. And with home responsibilities or childcare, sometimes time off really doesn’t feel like a vacation. But any kind of time you can spend consciously relaxing, doing a hobby you love, or getting to a personal project you’ve been putting off, can have far-reaching health benefits, decreasing stress and promoting a sense of calm. 

“With some time off work, you can practice some self-help techniques that will help you to calm down,” says Sesta Jacobs. 

When you’re feeling stress levels rise and taking time off just isn’t feasible, short meditation breaks throughout the day can also have a similarly profound effect on reducing stress levels.  

Physical wellbeing  

“Taking time off work, of course, isn’t just important for your mind; it’s also important for your physical wellbeing,” says Sesta Jacobs. “It allows you to recharge, reassess, refocus, and reconnect with the things that truly matter to you.” 

Did you know that 120 minutes (about 2 hours) a week in natural environments is often associated with wellbeing and good health? So, turning to nature whenever possible, increases the health benefits of time off, greatly.  

Studies recorded by the National Library of Medicine also show that exercise (at any time) holds immediate benefits which affect cognitive performance, such as improved concentration.  

Better productivity 

“Burnout happens when you’re so physically and mentally exhausted that you’ve got nothing left to give anymore – you can’t focus, you can’t commit, and you certainly can’t be productive,” says Sesta Jacobs.

“Being overworked leads to fatigue, which means that our body is no longer working at its peak performance level. When this happens, errors creep in. We start to make mistakes we would not ordinarily make. This is no help to anyone,” says Sesta Jacobs. 

According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive than those who spent more time working. 

“So, while you might feel a bit guilty for taking time off work, it is important to remember that you are doing everyone a favor by taking time off. You will be able to hit the reset button and return feeling more productive than ever,” says Sesta Jacobs. 

Better work-life balance  

Work-life balance is important in maintaining excellent mental health. Being able to perform well at work only comes from a rested mind and practicing self-care. While taking time off work can significantly improve employee mental health, a comprehensive approach from employers can elevate their overall wellbeing. 

LifeSpeak Inc., CEO, and Founder Michael Held is an advocate for and a strong believer in taking time away from work to rest and restore the mind. He shares a great analogy about how we should care for our energy levels, just like how we handle our electronics.  

“We monitor our cell phone battery percentage, and we even preserve battery life with low-power settings, but what about our own batteries as human beings—our mental energy, our physical ability, our emotional capacity?” Michael asks.  

“We have to learn to care for ourselves with the same diligence we give to our phones. We do not expect our cell phones to function without a charge, so why do we expect ourselves to get by without adequate rest and rejuvenation? Recharging your battery looks different for everyone. For some, it is time with friends, and for others, it is time in solitude. Whatever you need to refill your battery, make sure you take the time to recharge before your battery runs out.”  

At LifeSpeak Inc., Michael implemented a few company policies that ensure every employee can take the time they require to have a healthy work-life balance. Aside from implementing flexible work schedules and a generous PTO allowance, LifeSpeak Inc. introduced “Take A Breath” days every couple of months, where no one is expected to log onto their computers and are encouraged to use the time doing activities that will rejuvenate them.  

Promoting a better work-life balance to prevent employee burnout is also an opportunity for people to recharge in their daily routines. Employers can encourage their team members to step away from their computers and take proper breaks (and this means not eating lunch at desks!) Talking daily walks is a great way to be active while also getting a much-needed midday break.   

Connecting with loved ones  

Sesta Jacobs says getting back to who you are as a person, and not being defined by the work you produce is essential in setting a definitive balance between work and home life.  

“When we completely devote ourselves to our work, it can be very hard to remember who we are in the first place,” says Sesta Jacobs. “The boundaries between the Self and the Work Self begin to blur, and we lose sight of what mattered to us in the first place – family, relationships, hobbies, interests, and so on.” 

Sesta Jacobs also shares advice on how to improve the relationships around us.  

“Take some time to write down who you are and what matters to you; then, spend some quality time with the people who matter so much to you – your family, your friends,” says Sesta Jacobs. 

By taking a vacation from work (even a few days), people can recharge and return to the workforce replenished with a healthy mindset to tackle everyday challenges with poise and clarity. And in the bigger picture, time off work is essential for wellbeing. If you are an employer looking for a holistic wellbeing solution to help your organization thrive at work and at home, request a demo today.