We’ve all dreamed of playing hooky or leaving work early to spend the day relaxing or taking care of things on our never-ending to-do lists. Today, June 2nd, is National Leave the Office Early Day, so if there was ever a day to make it happen, it’s today.
The day (and movement) was coined by The Productivity Pro, Laura Stack, who wrote in her time management book in 2004, “Throwing more time at your work isn’t going to save you. Working faster and harder is a battle you’ll never win because you will always have more things to do than time to do it.” Fast forward to ten years later and it seems that Americans are working more hours than ever.
In 2014, a Gallup survey found that adults employed full-time in the US work 47 hours per week on average, instead of the standard 40-hour workweek. In fact, nearly 4 in 10 report that they work at least 50 hours a week. And with the rise of smartphones, laptops, and tablets, work is increasingly creeping into traditional ‘non-working’ hours as well. I’m guilty of checking and responding to emails in the evenings, weekends, and even while on vacation, and I’ll bet you are too.
And yet, time and again, we hear about the dangers of working too much. Psychology Today lists these symptoms of burning out: chronic fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, pessimism, increased apathy, and loss of enjoyment into various areas of life. And those are only a few symptoms on their list! It’s time to give yourself a little break and tend to other aspects of your life. Here’s why you should prioritize leaving the office early:
Whether it’s attending your child’s dance recital or taking an elderly parent to the doctor, you have a life outside of the office that needs your attention. In 2014, the White House released a report which highlighted the challenges American families face when trying to balance family and work. For example, today, both parents are employed in 6 out of every 10 households with children, up from 4 out 10 households in 1965. Similarly, 63 percent of people providing unpaid eldercare have jobs, with about half of caregivers working full-time. The report confirms that many workplaces have not kept up with the needs of 21st-century workers and families, with 52 percent of workers feeling they could do their jobs better if they were allowed a more flexible schedule. In fact, it’s increasingly beneficial for businesses to update their policies. Studies find that companies with family-friendly policies not only tend to recruit and retain top talent, they also on average saw better shareholder returns, and reduced stress levels. So really, it’s better for you and your company if you work less and prioritize your family.
If you are sick, please stay home and rest. Despite knowing this is what’s best for us, all of us have gone to work ill and tried to tough it out. A survey from Staples in 2012 found that 90 percent of office workers have gone to work sick, and that they were only 60 percent as productive as they were under normal circumstances. This term is known as presenteeism — the problem of workers’ being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, are not fully functioning. In fact, presenteeism is far more costly than being completely absent; researchers have calculated the total cost of presenteeism in the United States to be more than $150 billion per year. Essentially, you’re better off going home to take of yourself instead of powering through the day.
Think about your workspace for a moment. Does it have a lot of natural light, or is dark and full of fluorescent light? If you said natural light, you might be sleeping better than those without it. Studies show that office workers with more light exposure at the office had longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, more physical activity, and better quality of life compared to office workers with less light exposure in the workplace. With that in mind, take it a step further and go outside to get some vitamin D. Depending on where you live, you might only be getting sunshine 30-40 percent of the time. So when good weather arrives, you’ll want to make the most of it by taking your kids to the park or going for a walk. You’ll be happier and healthier for it.
The next time you are feeling very stressed out at work, it might be time to take a breather and leave the office early. Stress has been called the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization and is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year. And there’s really no upside or benefits to workplace stress; aside from the emotional toll it takes, stress worsens or increases the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. And let's face it: when you’re angry, agitated, or worried, you’re probably not doing your best work. It’s better to combat stress by practicing mindfulness, meditation, or simply by leaving early and restarting fresh tomorrow.
As a nation, we are not taking enough time off. A study by Project Time Off reveals that 55 percent of Americans did not use all of their vacation in 2015. The 55 percent of under-vacationed Americans left a total 658 million vacation days unused. Workers cite fear of returning to a mountain of work or that no one else can do the job as barriers to taking time off, but consider this: of the 658 million unused vacation days, 222 million of those days are lost for good — they can’t be rolled over, paid out, or banked for any other benefit. That’s not leaving money on the table — it’s giving it back to your company. Would you give your paycheck back to your company? Americans volunteering to give up millions of vacation days results in $64.1 billion in forfeited benefits. If we had used those forfeited days in 2015, Project Time Off reports that it would have meant $223 billion in spending for the economy and would have created 1.6 million jobs. So leave early and take your days off: it’s good for everyone including you.
A house will likely be the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, so it pays to preserve its value, or risk it losing 10 percent of its value. You may be diligently cleaning out gutters and changing smoke detector batteries, but sometimes the unexpected happens and you need to take care of it right away. Your water heater starts leaking. Your upstairs neighbor’s washer flooded and is leaking into your place. Whatever the problem, you may need to leave the office and tackle that problem or risk costly damages. It doesn’t always have to be an emergency situation; many field service workers work traditional Mon-Fri and are not available on weekends. Leaving work early to take of these tasks is something we can all relate and empathize with so don’t feel bad — just go.
There are a lot of reasons why you might not be able to concentrate while working. Maybe you’re excited by a new date, feeling sleepy, or worried about a sick relative. Or maybe you’re distracted by time sucks like browsing the Internet, talking or texting on your phone, gossiping with colleagues, and going to useless meetings. Whatever the reason, your productivity is draining away and you can’t seem to get on task, no matter how much you try to focus. Certainly, having an open office space isn’t helping. Don’t worry, you’re not alone: in 2015, 89 percent of employees admitted wasting time at work every day with over 30 percent of workers wasting 30-60 minutes daily. If you’ve really tried to get work done, but keep getting distracted it’s probably time to hit the road. Your productivity is nil and you risk distracting others and pulling them away from working too. Instead, use that time to be productive in other parts of your life — that way the day isn’t a complete loss.