The Science of Taking Time Off

October 27, 2020      By Andrew Taylor

Ultimate Takeaway
  • Remote employees have historically taken less time off, and that seems to be true now that more employees are working from home.
  • The increasing threat of employee burnout is a reality that many employers are taking extra steps to avoid.
  • Although everyone loves a three-day weekend, the best day to take time off is actually Wednesday.

Where Has the Time (Off) Gone?

At the start of this year, I (like so many others) made a vow to commit to my New Year’s resolutions. Many of my resolutions revolved around time. I planned out new schedules and routines to optimize my days for work, rest, and play. I started making plans to take time off for a trip or two to visit new countries and explore some new cultures.

Since we’re all experiencing 2020 together, I don’t need to tell you how these plans went.

Now that the advertisements for pumpkin spice everything are in full effect, it’s really dawning on me that these are the last few months of 2020. Now I’m left scratching my head and wondering where has the time for taking time off gone?

The “Right” Time to Take Time Off

I can’t be alone in this new dilemma of finding the “right” time to take some personal time throughout this pandemic. Admittedly, it’s a good problem to have as an employee, right? I’m fortunate enough to work at a company with a generous paid time off policy and empathetic leaders who encourage us to use it. Yet, there’s still the challenge of when to use it.

Prior to the pandemic, remote employees were already taking less time off than their in-office colleagues. That hasn’t changed. The only variable that has changed is that organizations across the globe now have more employees in the remote work equation than ever before.

According to a survey conducted by Robert Half, the impact of COVID-19 has only exacerbated the challenge of taking time off for many remote employees. 28% of surveyed employees anticipated taking less time off this summer. Another 37% of those surveyed planned to hold off on vacation days with hopes to travel later in the year.

Any Time is the Right Time to Avoid Employee Burnout

Waiting for the right time for a vacation may have once been a viable strategy for those of us who made that resolution to travel more, but is it still? As the year comes to a close, it may be time to reevaluate.

Employee burnout was real before this pandemic, and it may be a new reality for many others during this pandemic. Luckily, some employers are recognizing this and taking action. Here at UKG, we’ve been strongly encouraged to leverage our unlimited PTO, and even schedule time for naps if that’s what it takes. Other employers are even finding ways to force employees away from their computers in order to unplug and unwind.

The Science of Taking Time Off

If I’ve learned anything from Daniel Pink’s book When, it’s that there is an art and science to the timing of things. Does it apply to taking time off too? Apparently so.

I think we all enjoy a long weekend, but it turns out that the best day to take a day is Wednesday (say that five times fast). Taking a day in the middle of the week as opposed to a Monday or Friday provides a rhythm that’s actually healthy for us. “Chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases,” writes Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Robash, and Michael W. Young in recent research on our circadian rhythms. Think of it as breaking your work week into two, two-day work weeks.


There’s so much more to the science of timing than taking vacation. Find out how the science of timing affects the way we work in this new UKG webcast featuring Daniel Pink. Click here to register and have a chance to receive a free copy of Dan Pink’s book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

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