With the “better” summer weather upon us here in Europe our thoughts at this time of the year turn to the holidays. Europeans are very lucky compared to many in the world as we tend to take 2-3 weeks holiday, usually over the summer period. Others cultures view this long period of low productivity and output as bad for business. But is it?
Throughout England and Wales the August summer holiday period is often referred to as “silly season”, as Clients, consultants and organisations tend to focus their holiday downtime during this four week period when schools are out. Although offices are generally not closed during this period, they operate on skeleton staff, with those remaining – mainly the staff without school commitments – in the office covering for other colleagues. There is a general acceptance that decision making and project progress in August almost grinds to a halt, and so does financial output and therefore cashflow!
While the UK does not “shut down” as such in August, a number of other European countries do. French, Italian and Germany office workers tend to take advantage of the better weather (historically the month of overpowering heat in the cities) and up to 30 days holiday per year, meaning most services, outside of the tourist industries are closed in August. The Scandinavian countries shutdown throughout July to take advantage of the better weather and longest hours of daylight during the year. An understandable decision following months of cold and darkness.
In the US, it is a different matter, with the average American being entitled to just 16 days of paid holiday per year, and many significantly less. Research has also shown that the average American holiday lasts just over four days, with only 14% of the population taking two weeks or more. Pressure is felt to remain productive, especially these days where the economy is still recovering from recession. Throughout Asia-Pacific and the southern hemisphere business continues as usual during August and so many look at the European “silly season” as a positively alien concept which is poor for economic productivity and competitiveness.
However unproductive this season might be, in Europe the summer shutdown is nothing new and is planned into projects and cashflow. We know projects will wrap up before the summer meaning intense pressure for completion leading up to holidays. We know that new projects and opportunities will be launched after the holidays when everyone is back in the office again. We know that our client’s and colleagues will be off on holiday and we plan our time accordingly.
However, the most important reason for the holiday cannot be measured by the direct short term loss of productivity. Taking a holiday away from the stresses of work is medicinal and is key to maintaining the employee’s physical and mental wellbeing, which is important to any successful company. Research has shown the importance of taking longer holidays as staff become less productive and less creative without proper, relaxing breaks from work. And by proper, we’re talking about unplugging from the hectic world of work and communications and having downtime in order to recharge one’s personal batteries. Focusing on issues outside of work is important to reducing stress levels and avoiding burn-out within work, and is of long term significance to any organisation. A happy and healthy employee is a productive employee, and far more valuable in the long term. It has even been suggested by research that an annual holiday can help reduce the risk of a heart attack in men by 30% and in women by 50%. Any organisation clears performs more efficiently with healthy and mentally fit employees.
So while we often complain about “silly season” with projects slowing to a halt, we must also recognise the importance of working hard and taking the proper holiday time away from work to ensure we return fresh and revitalised for new challenges. I’ve just returned from my holiday and during my three weeks of downtime I even took the unusual step of disabling the work email from my phone. I was completely unplugged and for the first few days felt anxious that I was missing something important. Were there any problems? Was all ok? Thankfully I have an excellent team around me and not only did they resolve their problems, but they also allowed me to "let go" for three weeks of quality downtime.
So here I am, back at work, refreshed, stress-free, re-energised and ready for the challenges of autumn. Bring on the new season!