Are you working smarter or just putting in more and more hours?  Taking time off is vital to improving productivity according to a paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, by Sonnentag and Fritz.

The research backs up what we all intuitively know – taking leave really does recharge your batteries.  You are happier and more energetic when you return to work after a good break.

A professor of work and organisational psychology at the University of Konstanz in Germany, Sabrine Sonnentag, studied the performance of 221 workers before and after they took a break, as well as what they did on it.  The results showed people were more motivated and found tasks easier to accomplish for at least two weeks after their return from holidays than before they took time off.

Sonnentag also found that the beneficial effects are maximised if people use the time to learn a new skill as well as switch off from work.

Trainers involved in management development programmes report similar experiences when training.  Participants take time out from their work to think about their role and how they can be more effective, which invariably leads them to being clearer and more motivated when they return to work.

Sonnentag and a colleague, Charlotte Fritz, found those who mastered a new skill or tackled a challenge felt more energetic two weeks after returning to work than before the holiday. They also found it was good to practice positive thinking on holidays.

Sonnentag found the positive effects of holidays faded quickly if people faced an extra workload on return. Those who brooded on work politics and dwelt on unfinished business were more likely to report feeling exhausted soon after their return than those who switched off in the holidays or reflected on the good things about work.

As a footnote, recent studies in the UK have shown that as much as 20% of Britain’s working population take less than their full holiday entitlements – so it is vital to ensure that not only you take your holidays but so do your staff.