Written by Sebastián Uriarte, Managing Partner AIMS International Chile and the AIMS International Marketing Team

Did you have a good vacation at the end of 2019? Or did you just keep on working? Studies show that taking a break will improve your overall health – read more about this here.

In 2013, Harvard Business Review partnered up with the founder and CEO of The Energy Project, Tony Schwartz, to conduct research where more than 12,000 consultants and managers participated. This research showed that the employees, regardless of the industry or company, are more satisfied and more productive when the company fulfils their “4 basic needs”:

  1. Physical needs: thorough opportunities to renew and regularly recharge their energy levels
  2. Emotional needs: to feel valued and appreciated for their contributions
  3. Psychological needs: to be able to focus on their most important tasks and define when and where they want to work
  4. Spiritual needs: doing more of what they enjoy the most and feeling connected to a deeper purpose

According to the results of this study, the more effectively leaders and organisations can support their employees in meeting these basic needs, the more likely they are to experience high levels of commitment, loyalty, satisfaction and positive energy at work and decrease stress levels. When at least one of the employees’ needs have been met, compared to none, all individual and organisational performance variables improve. The more needs that are met, the more positive the impact and the greater the performance.

The holidays are a great opportunity for organisations to boost and enhance the satisfaction of these four needs presented in the study.

One way to meet the employees’ physical need for energy recharge is by providing adequate resting opportunities. In fact, there are multiple studies that confirm the positive correlation between rest and productivity. This began with the labour policy promoted in the previous century by Henry Ford when he implemented a 40-hour work week at his car plants (the norm by then was 12 hours a day, 7 days a week). It was based on the results of an internal study that showed a notable increase in employee errors where they worked more than 40 hours a week.

More recent studies reinforce this correlation between productivity and rest. A 2011 study by the International Labor Organisation (ILO) found that, in OECD countries from 1950 until now, hours of work have increased, but productivity per hour has fallen. This factor is more complex and prevalent in Chile because we are one of the countries with the highest working hours and the worst productivity rates per hour worked. Moreover, the report shows that the more hours you work, the faster productivity falls.

There is also an analysis on the impact of vacation days on an employee’s health. Middle-aged men who presented some risk of developing coronary heart disease were investigated for more than nine years. This disease was chosen because of its high association with stress. The results show that mortality rates decrease statistically according to the frequency of annual vacations taken by these men.  A similar study by the University of Pittsburgh that lasted the duration of 12 years, a group of 12 000 men it was discovered that those participants who did not have the habit of taking a few days of vacation a year had 32% more risk of dying from a heart attack and 21% from dying of another illness than those who did take vacations.

Taken into an organisational context in 2006, Ernst & Young conducted a study with its own employees demonstrating that for every additional ten hours of vacation, annual employee performance evaluations improved by 8%, and those employees who took vacations regularly were more loyal to their work and stayed in the company for longer.

Returning to the original approach of employees’ four basic needs (physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual), it is possible to observe that vacations and rest satisfy each of the above mentioned needs. Vacations cover the physical needs of the employees, giving them the opportunity to rest, through extra hours of sleep, good eating habits, physical exercise, spending more time outdoors, etc. They also cover emotional needs, by providing the employee with the opportunity to share with family and friends and feel valued by this important group, fulfilling a different emotional need to the one that exists at the workplace through interaction. They would also cover psychological needs by focusing on performing important tasks defined by the individual and their interests spending time on their hobbies, what to eat, where to go, etc.  Looking after their spiritual needs, carrying out activities that they enjoy and that may be related to some of their life purposes, thus allowing vacations and rest, increasing the level of employee satisfaction and enhancing the commitment and productivity of people in organisations.

The relationship between productivity and rest is not surprising when looking at it through the eyes of neurosciences. The sciences studying the functioning of the brain maintain that most of our neurons are destined to maintain the proper functioning of the body and that the well-being of our body is related to emotional and mental well-being. Therefore, if we give the body the necessary rest, then the whole system will rest – and may work better as a result. Similarly, if employees take a mental and emotional break from their work, their bodies will also respond by resting, giving them more energy for future activities.

In retrospect and moving one step beyond the results of these studies, there are measures which organisations, their leaders and employees can take to ensure that rest has the greatest possible impact on productivity. Companies can influence the quality of rest by creating policies, spaces and work disconnection practices. Just as companies can contribute towards rest to increase productivity, employees also have the responsibility to take advantage of those moments of rest to disconnect physically, emotionally and mentally and enjoy the endless possibilities that vacations offer them. In this way we can “literally” charge ourselves with energy to face the challenges and complexities that the year will present to us.

What about you? When last did you take a break?

Written by Sebastián Uriarte, Managing Partner AIMS International Chile and the AIMS International Marketing Team