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By Paresha Kala and Ashley Ramsoonder, senior consultants and occupational therapists at Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions


With no clear indication on when Covid-19 lockdown restrictions will end, mental illness, exhaustion and burnout should be a concern for companies. For this reason, they should encourage employees to use their leave days even when self-isolating.


With many people having had to cancel holiday plans during the March/April religious holidays and June school holidays, disappointment levels as well as the risk of burnout are at an all-time high. Many employees save the bulk of their leave for December, but it has never been more important to highlight the benefit of regular, intermittent time off than now. While social distancing means limiting interaction with friends and family, making the prospect of taking time off even less appealing, now could be the time to encourage learning a new skill or hobby as an alternative to a week of sun and sea.


Currently a third of the world’s population is under some form of lockdown. Social distancing could increase psychological distress associated with poor sleeping habits, depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts and behaviour, and stress and anxiety.


For many people, the pandemic has also meant a complete upheaval of routine, which will continue for some time and can affect emotional well-being. Further, many people’s jobs are in jeopardy, while the pressure to remain productive in the workplace and to develop our skills is mounting. All these stressors eventually build up and could lead to burnout, if long-term workplace stress is not managed properly.


Therefore, it is vital to take some time off to de-stress, maintaining a level of normality. Taking annual leave is not only a benefit provided by your employer but is also a health and safety requirement. Many companies encourage employees to take at least 10 consecutive days of annual leave to ensure that they are well rested.


However, with more employees working from home and strict lockdown regulations, employers find that fewer employees are taking annual leave. With no clear indication on when the lockdown will be lifted, annual leave balances may be on the increase. Employees who are working from home may also not see a need to go on leave, as new flexible work arrangements may mean that they can complete both their work and home responsibilities without wasting time in traffic, for example.


Not taking leave also affects the employer negatively:


  • Accrued annual leave is recorded as a liability on the company’s balance sheets.
  • Having to pay accrued leave when an employee leaves the company may reduce profits.
  • Employees who work excessively without taking enough time to rest and rejuvenate may take strain and become less productive.
  • In severe cases, their mental or physical health may deteriorate, which could increase their sick absenteeism rates and even the company’s disability claims experience.
  • This may also impact on employee turnover.
  • Fewer people taking annual leave affects the economy, as less is spent on tourism and hospitality industries that are allowed to operate during this time.


What are the benefits physically and mentally of taking a break?


  • Reduces the risk of heart disease (stress may trigger smoking, alcohol consumption and unhealthy eating habits, which in turn increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease)
  • Resets your thoughts so that you become more creative and productive
  • Improves overall wellness by:
    • reducing stress and increasing productivity
    • lowering the risk of anxiety and depression
    • improving mood, which may help to ease social relationships


When taking leave while at home, here are some tips to distance yourself from work:


  • Switch off smartphones and computers.
  • Inform all relevant people that you are on leave and not available unless in an emergency.
  • Put your out-of-office reply on with the start and end date of your leave and who to contact in your absence.
  • Do not forward your calls to your cellphone.
  • Do a thorough handover so you are free to relax without thinking about incomplete work tasks.
  • Separate your work and relaxation area. Pack your work tools such as laptop away for the duration of your leave.
  • Develop a new routine for your leave, such as waking up earlier and going for a run or not setting an alarm and sleeping in.


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