The importance of switching off over the Christmas period

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In this digital era employees are finding it increasingly difficult to disconnect from work even during compulsory holiday times

There are a number of reasons employees may be reluctant to take a well-deserved break during the festive period (or during any other period).

For example, some employees may feel they need to be 'available' to their clients, customers and contacts at all times. Others may feel pressure from their employers and colleagues because of an entrenched office culture and an expectation that employees will promptly reply to emails and telephone calls. In addition, there will be some employees who are unable or hesitant to hand work over to others.

With reports that one in four people suffer with a mental health condition every year, it is important for employees to be able to take a complete break from their work so they can return to the office well rested and refreshed. Employers also have a duty of care to their employees, and so they should ensure that staff are protected from harm caused by a failure to switch off from work.

If employees do not take time out of work there is a significant risk that their health and wellbeing will deteriorate. It is also likely that employees who do not have proper rest periods will be less productive. Further, there are a number of studies that demonstrate tired employees are more likely to make mistakes and this, in turn, could expose employers to serious professional and reputational damage.

However, ensuring employees are taking proper breaks can be a significant challenge for employers.

Here are five practical tips to help ensure employees are taking proper time out over the Christmas period:

1. Employers can actively discourage a culture where employees are expected to be personally available at all times. Employers should take steps to stagger holidays and to ensure that adequate cover is in place to meet work demands. If managed properly, these steps should allow employees to benefit from an uninterrupted break without worrying about their work or professional relationships suffering.

2. Employers can set boundaries and manage the expectations of clients, contacts and customers at an early stage in the relationship by being clear about response times outside of normal office hours. It is also good practice to explain that there will be temporary periods where other employees will be assigned their work in order to cover periods of absence.

3. Employers can expressly instruct employees not to work during holiday periods and can ask employees to place suitable out-of-office messages on their email account and telephone. While it is difficult to stop employees working during their holiday they may be less inclined to do so if they have been explicitly told not to and if their contacts know they are out of the office.

4. Employers should have clear overtime (including unpaid overtime) and home working policies and should carefully monitor employees who appear to be regularly working long hours and/or during weekends and evenings. Employers should also seek to establish the underlying causes for such a work pattern. For example: is the employee finding it difficult to manage the volume of their work or do they think working long hours will help them to secure a promotion or the approval of their managers.

5. Employers should look out for symptoms of stress and burnout among employees and consider whether there is a need for additional support either from colleagues – in helping the employee to manage their workload – or from a suitable medical professional. Employers may also wish to encourage use of an external employee assistance programme for employees who appear to be struggling.

In summary, if employers do not actively take steps to encourage proper breaks and prevent an office culture of all work and no rest, the long-term risks and costs to both employee wellbeing and the success of the business are likely to be significant.

Danielle Crawford is a senior associate in the employment team at Winckworth Sherwood

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