Have you tried switching it off?
In one of my favourite shows, The IT Crowd, there’s a running storyline you might be familiar with. The show revolves around two tech geeks and their tech-illiterate boss, all working together in a rather gloomy basement to support a large organization. As the story goes: whenever someone calls to report an IT issue, no matter the issue, the response is always the same, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”. The befuddled caller often admits they haven’t, and surprisingly, after giving the straightforward advice a shot, the IT problem magically resolves.
It’s not just TV humour; this situation mirrors real-life tech troubleshooting experiences. How often have you encountered an IT glitch, resorted to the classic “turn it off and on again,” and found that it works?
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.
The simple “turn-off and turn-on” again solution works not only for IT troubleshooting, it works for us humans too. As the renowned author Anne Lamott wisely puts it, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
Switching off is where the magic happens
While comparing the IT Crowd to elite athletes might seem like comparing apples to oranges, the shared wisdom of “turn-off and turn-on again” is what separates the amateurs from the elite athletes.
Amateur athletes focus on the active doing or “on” part of their training programme, while the elite understand the true magic follows after. It is when they switch off and prioritise rest and recovery. Much like the IT specialist’s advice to “turn it off and on again,” these athletes grasp the delicate balance between pushing limits gradually to stress the muscle (progressive overload) and the essential downtime that follows for recovery and repair to occur. It is during recovery that muscles grow stronger and athletes can extend towards their potential. Their training mantra is clear: train hard, recover harder.
What is stopping us from switching off?
Despite this wisdom in the world of sports, many individuals in the business world struggle to switch off. A study of nearly 6,000 Americans from the Pew Research Center in February 2023 found that of those who have paid time off, nearly half said they typically take less than what is on offer. The primary reasons for not taking leave included: believing they didn’t need the time off, concerns of falling behind with their work, and feeling guilty about their co-workers needing to take on additional work. In addition, one in five were concerned that time off may hurt their job advancement, or that they might risk losing their job. Alarmingly, one in ten reported a perception that their manager or supervisor discouraged taking time off.
It’s not just Americans who struggle to switch off and take a break. The ELMO 2022 Q3 Employee Sentiment Survey found 80 percent of New Zealand workers who had accrued annual leave were not using it. Nearly half (48%) said they were stockpiling their annual leave because of the rising costs of living, while a quarter (24%) weren’t using their leave because of a heavy workload and one in five (19%) were worried about travelling because of the covid-19 pandemic. The study found one in five New Zealanders had saved up more than the yearly entitlement of four weeks leave with the average being 22 days!
This sends a clear message that despite New Zealanders having more holiday provisions than countries like Australia, Switzerland, Canada and Japan – 20 days of paid annual leave and 11 paid public holidays – barriers are preventing us from making the most of them.
What is the cost of always being “on”
This reluctance to take a break comes with consequences. A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) quoted by Forbes brings a depressing revelation as we head into the merry season. In 2016, nearly 745,000 lives were claimed by heart disease and stroke, directly linked to extended work hours. To put that into perspective for my fellow New Zealanders, the Greater Wellington Region has an estimated population of 550,500, so we’re talking the entire Greater Wellington Region population plus another a third. That is huge!
The study further emphasised that individuals working 55 hours or more per week faced a significantly elevated risk—35% higher for stroke and 17% higher for heart disease-related mortality—compared to those with a standard workweek of 35 to 40 hours. When considering the cumulative effects of compromised health due to prolonged working hours, the toll becomes substantial for the individual, their family, and also the economy.
However, there’s a silver lining to this gloomy picture. By taking on board the wisdom of the IT Crowd and elite athletes, individuals can enjoy many benefits that not only enhance personal well-being but also contribute positively to their families, the companies they work for and the broader economy.
Four science-based benefits for switching off these holidays
Benefit 1: Improved mental health
Switching off and taking a holiday is a mental health booster as well. Stepping away from the demands of daily life, whether that be travelling elsewhere or having a staycation at home, allows the mind the precious opportunity to unwind and reset.
A study conducted in Canada involving more than 800 lawyers revealed that taking vacations not only diminished instances of depression but also acted as a protective buffer against job-related stress.
Benefit 2. Improved performance and productivity
For those worried about falling behind on work, an earlier study from Ernst and Young found that for every additional 10 hours of vacation time that employees took, their year-end performance improved 8%.
This finding was backed up by a second study completed by the Boston Consulting Group who found that high level professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive overall than those who spent more time working. Yes really!
Benefit 3: More recognition and money
Finally, if you feel as though you can’t afford to take time off or may miss out on a promotion. Think again.
A fascinating study quoted in the Harvard Business Review found that those who actually take promotions are the ones who get promoted. How incredible is that?! I’ll repeat, taking a vacation can increase the likelihood of getting a promotion or a raise.
Benefit 4: A happier and healthier future
Switching off doesn’t just offer immediate relief, it offers benefits physical and mental benefits for your future self as well. A comprehensive study of over 3,000 Canadian workers found a positive correlation between taking more paid vacation days and overall health and life satisfaction. And it gets even better!
The positive experiences we gain during a holiday leave a lasting impact as reflecting on positive holiday memories can influence one’s current state of happiness.
What are you going to do?
As we find ourselves entangled in the holiday hustle, please let this article serve as a gentle reminder, or perhaps the much-needed permission you’ve been waiting for, to grant yourself a well-deserved break.
Just like a tech glitch often requires a reboot, so too do we. Just like machines, human also benefit from a deliberate pause—a moment to unplug, recharge, and reconnect with what truly matters.
So, what are you going to do?
As the KitKat slogan goes, please ‘Have a break,’ and savor the magic that unfolds when you take a step back, allowing yourself the gift of renewal and relaxation.
About the author
Josie Askin, CEO of Spring Coaching, is a performance and productivity coach who works with driven leaders and entrepreneurs to improve their performance and productivity.
Josie has nearly 20 years working in government, in a range of advisory roles. She became interested in the gaps between workplace performance and wellbeing, gradually building analogies between sport and business performance while gaining several coaching qualifications. Now she deals with clients under pressure from all walks of life offering tailored leadership performance coaching, workplace wellbeing programmes, workshops, speaking and facilitation.