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. Since the line between work and home life has become muddied, today is as good a day as any to leave work early.
The day (and movement) was coined by The Productivity Pro Laura Stack, author of “Leave the Office Earlier: The Productivity Pro Shows You How to Do More in Less Time…and Feel Great About It.” “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 ten years and it seems Americans are working more hours than ever.
No excuses: why we need to leave work early
A Gallup survey found adults employed full-time in the U.S. work 47 hours per week on average, instead of the standard 40-hour workweek. In fact, nearly four in 10 report they work at least 50 hours a week. And with the rise of smartphones, laptops, and tablets, work increasingly creeps into traditional “nonworking” 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.
Americans leave a total of 768 million vacation days unused.U.S. Travel Association
And yet, time and again, we hear about the dangers of working too much. Psychology Today lists these symptoms of burn out: chronic fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, pessimism, increased apathy, and loss of enjoyment in 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 work early:
1. You have family commitments
Whether it’s attending your child’s dance recital or taking an elderly parent to the doctor, you have a life outside of work that needs your attention. Not long ago, the White House released a report that highlighted the challenges American families face when balancing family and work. For example, today, both parents are employed in six out of every 10 households with children, up from four out of 10 households in 1965. Similarly, 63% of people providing unpaid eldercare have jobs, with about half of caregivers working full-time. The report confirms many workplaces have not kept up with the needs of 21st-century workers and families, with 52% of workers feeling they could do their jobs better if they were allowed a more flexible schedule. In fact, it’s beneficial for businesses to update their policies. Studies find companies with family-friendly policies not only tend to recruit and retain top talent, they also on average saw reduced stress levels. So really, it’s better for you and your company if you work less and prioritize your family.
2. You’re taking care of your health
If you are sick, please rest. Despite knowing this is what’s best for us, all of us have worked while ill and tried to tough it out. A survey from Staples found 90% of office workers have gone to work sick, and that they were only 60% 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 resting to take of yourself instead of powering through the day.
3. You want to take advantage of good weather
Think about your workspace at home or in the office 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 workers with more light exposure in their workspace had longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, more physical activity, and better quality of life compared to workers with less light exposure in their workspace. 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% 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.
4. You’re feeling stressed out
The next time you feel 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.
5. You don’t take your vacation time
As a nation, we are not taking enough time off. A study by the U.S. Travel Association reveals 55% of Americans did not use all of their vacation. The 55% of under-vacationed Americans left a total 768 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 768 million unused vacation days, 236 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 $65.5 billion in forfeited benefits. If we had used those forfeited days, U.S. Travel Association reports 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.
6. You need to take care of your home
A house will likely be the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, so it pays to preserve 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 leaks 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 workers work traditional Monday through Friday and are not available on weekends. Leaving work early to take of these tasks is something we can all relate to and empathize with, so don’t feel bad — just go.
7. You can’t concentrate anymore
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 attending 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. Don’t worry, you’re not alone: 89% of employees admit to wasting time at work every day with over 30% 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.