Employees are being urged to schedule proper breaks from their jobs as technology and a growing number of redundancies mean more Australians are taking work home with them.

Research shows millions of ambitious employees are forgoing lunch breaks, postponing annual leave and even checking emails in the middle of the night to stay ahead in their workplace but the long-term health costs far outweigh the financial benefits, say workplace consultants.

National think tank The Australia Institute reports that the majority of Australians do not take their full leave each year, and 3.8 million Australian workers routinely don’t take a lunch break, with one in two of them saying it’s because they are “too busy”.

The Hard to get a break? report also found that one in four reported anxiety, 3.3 million experienced loss of sleep and 50 per cent would like to spend more time with their family. There was a strong correlation between work-related stress and not taking leave breaks.

Sharon Parker, of the University of WA’s business school, said workers who were able to switch off by indulging in the activities they loved were much more likely to avoid a raft of health problems in future — ranging from depression to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“The more people do after-work activities that engage them — rather than just flopping down on the couch with a glass of wine and watching TV, the better their daily recovery, ” Winthrop Professor Parker said. “Our studies show that deliberately relaxing by listening to music, doing meditation or activities where challenge and learning are involved — like playing guitar — help people to replenish lost resources. They also showed that people put in more effort and are more proactive and productive at work the next day.”

Professor Parker said effective time management was an important way to regulate stress and aid recovery. “If people manage their time effectively, then they can create opportunities for breaks — my observation is a lot of people are poor time managers, ” she said. “One idea is micro-breaks, including a quick chat with a colleague or getting a glass of water. Research shows people can intensively concentrate for only about 45 minutes, so trying to have a micro-break after that time is good practice.”

Boundary management — things like managing expectations around emails when on leave, and providing points of contact for people while away — would help people switch off better during periods of longer leave.

Professor Parker said taking breaks, both short breathers and long-term annual leave, were shown to lower people’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease and halted the effects of exhaustion.

Employee engagement specialist James Adonis said workers should really think about what they valued most in life and change their workplace habits in line with those priorities.

“We spend quite a bit of time already being at work, and then taking work home or thinking about work during our own time, ” he said. “It would be a tragedy for people to devote even more time to work.

“Big companies are realising that having an alert, engaged and productive workforce has a financial benefit, so people owe it to themselves and their company to take full annual leave, it makes sense from health and business points of view.”


© The West Australian

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