The concept of paid leave is relatively new. Only a few generations ago, people could not have conceived of taking time off and being paid to do so. The Bolshevik government, which took power in Germany after the Russian revolution of 1917, was the first to introduce the right of workers to enjoy holidays. Leave was used as a reward and punishment system, and was the purview of the privileged or those in the upper circles of power. Countries such as Austria, Finland, Sweden and Italy introduced the ‘right’ to paid leave into their legislation in one way or another in the 1920s. Spain followed suit in 1931. In France, the ‘happy strikes’ of 1936 saw factory workers and laborers demand a 40-hour working week, recognition of union representation and paid holidays.
Today, we take for granted that we are entitled to leave. However, how we use this time to relax and recharge is just as important to productivity as taking the time off itself. It is a misnomer that working longer hours and not taking breaks is productive. This has been proven by various studies around the world, with businesses today experimenting with shorter hours (32 hour working week) and longer holidays (up to five weeks paid leave).
The known benefits of enjoying extended holiday period include:
When we sleep well, we are well. Studies show that once basic needs, such as food and shelter are met, the next most important factor to our happiness is sleep. An increase in pay means little if you are not sleeping well. A lack of quality sleep is shown to have a massive impact on our happiness, it negatively affects decision making and cognitive function, and alertness. Taking time to rest, recharge and sleep is vital to our long-term health and wellbeing.
A study comparing the effects of urban and natural environments on cognitive functions showed that the research participants who spent time in nature returned with improved directed-attention abilities as opposed to those who spent time in an urban environment. Taking time to reconnect with our natural environment allows us to destress and view the world differently.
New things spark our creativity. When we spend a lot of time in the same routine with the same people, we stagnate. We are no longer challenged to find solutions or think about things differently. When we encounter things that are new, we have to explore new ways of interacting or problem solving. Change is good for our creativity, forcing us to contemplate new ideas, sights, sounds or encounters, which tests our ability to adapt.
We all become tired of the same routine, the same tasks, the same office space. Time away from the familiar can help us in two distinct ways. First, it can open our minds. If you take a holiday to a place with an unfamiliar culture or language, you are forced to change your perspective. Second, you return to the familiar with a renewed appreciation. You return to work with a new outlook, often with a wealth of ideas born from new experiences. The more you experience life, the more you can understand things from a broader perspective. (Which also increases our willingness to be tolerant of others or difference.)
Taking time out to recharge and re-energise yourself is one of the most beneficial things that you can do for your productivity, and your career. If you are a business owner, considering flexible work hours and extended leave could see your business thrive as workers are more appreciative of the benefits of their workplace, more committed to tasks, and overall, happier in life. While necessity may be the mother of creation, holidays are the grandmother of happiness, which is essential to real productivity.
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