The Power of ‘Down’ Time

With our cold winters here in Canada, people tend to switch into a different gear once the weather starts to get warmer and vacation time is closer. But it’s not just the warmer weather that motivates us to shift, but any plan for time off.

Photo of a beach shore with the words out of office written in the sand

For the most part, people prefer to take some vacation time in the summer, which means decisions and meetings are put off until all stakeholders are available again. It means that offices are quieter and for some department and for some, significant percentages of the company are shut down. This creates a very different feel around the workplace….can we liken it to being in school after regular school hours? Or perhaps, being home for the weekend when everyone else is away or otherwise occupied? There is still a lot of activity but, it’s more relaxed and more social, with an energy that can feel less burdensome, less timeline driven and overall more freeing.

Employers might argue that this ‘down’ time is a less productive time in the workplace. In fact, research shows that it is a highly productive time. Without all the noise, for example stressful leadership or co-workers present, high volume internal or external customer e-mails or calls, or time-consuming meetings, leaves time to get work done that has been long awaiting completion. When those projects are completed a weight is lifted, extra noise is absent, along with the nagging feeling that you have to ‘get that project done’. It could be something as simple as organizing your files or notes or e-mails, or having time to think through a project and other goals that need to be planned for. At the end of the day, the completing of the project feels both rewarding and motivating.

Many of our clients tell us that they don’t get any work done within the regular work hours because they are so busy reacting to urgent matters. They actually complete projects by coming in early or working late or from home. The long-term effects of this on the body and cognitive capacity are both cumulative and startling. A new study of 600,000 individuals in Australia, the United States, and Europe published in the Lancet, a United Kingdom-based medical journal, found that people who work more than 55 hours per week or more have a 33% greater risk of stroke and a 13% greater risk of coronary heart disease.

According to a new report published by a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia and Keio University in Japan, cognitive ability is also impacted by long work hours. After the age of 40, working more than 30 hours a week becomes too much for people’s brains to handle. Participants who were over the age of 40 and worked more than 30 hours a week experienced a negative decline in cognitive ability. After 30 hours, work left employees fatigued and stressed, which can potentially lead to cognitive damage, according to McKenzie.

This shows some of the benefits of having ‘down’ time as an essential component of working productively and improving employee wellness. When employees are able to get projects accomplished during their normal work day due to summer slow down rather than working 50 – 60 hours a week it’s a win -win. It supports a healthier and more productive work environment that can only benefit the bottom line.