Coffee cup in hand, Akash Mitra looked out of the window from the sixth-floor Park Street office in the heart of Kolkata. It's afternoon in late December and dusk will descend soon. Like every year, the entire 2km stretch and the adjoining streets have been decorated with colorful lights and props to celebrate the Yuletide festivities. Akash loves this time of the year. More than Christmas, it’s the time to take an annual break from work and travel to the Himalayas to de-stress, something he has been doing for nearly a decade now.
Akash is not alone. Many working professionals all over the world log off from work in the last week of December. It’s all about unwinding before a fresh year starts. In tropical countries like India, where summers are hot and humid and winters are mostly pleasant rather than biting cold, the Christmas-New Year week is the time to take a vacation.
While vacation is a real break in the classic sense, not everybody travels out of town. Many people avoid overcrowded tourist spots and prefer staying at home. They turn off their mobile phones, ignore emails, and make it a point to rest and play or maybe go for a staycation. Hard work and stressful schedules characterize most people’s lives. It’s important to de-stress, enjoy life, and recharge.
Sustainable job performance requires professionals to thrive at their work. According to the State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report by Gallup, only 32% of the respondents said they are thriving, while 43% reported high levels of daily stress. With the pressure to perform increasing each day, it’s no surprise that a wealth of employees feels close to burnout. Extensively studied across high-stress professional work environments, burnout is characterised by decreased work performance, emotional exhaustion, poor decision-making, high error rates, and lack of empathy towards colleagues and clients. While short-term benefits are often achieved through overwork and delaying breaks, they are overshadowed by long-term costs of lost productivity, errors, and abbreviated careers.
Simone Biles: A case in point
The importance of having six hours of a good night’s sleep for mental, physical, and emotional well-being can’t be overemphasized. Senior-level professionals often operate for longer time-cycles and are ‘too busy’ to take a break. The rituals and routines of weeks, months, and years may help them achieve milestones in their careers, but they get less time to log off from work.
Even elite athletes, or those wanting to operate at the peak of their talent in any profession, need to realise the necessity for breaks. Knowing when to train and when to rest could be the key to winning. Simone Biles is a classic example in this regard. Widely considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, Simone surprised the world when she withdrew from five event finals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 26-year-old athlete suffered from ‘twisties’, a mental block that causes gymnasts to lose track of their position in mid-air. She later said, “It's OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are, rather than just battle through it."
Biles’ decision was necessary and admirable for her to focus on her mental health. The seven-time Olympic medallist returned even stronger and won multiple medals in several international competitions.
The year-end break
The last week of the year is an excellent time to take a break from work and prepare for the year ahead. Harvard Business Review calls this ‘predictable time off’. Nothing much happens in the office as the year-end is just around the corner. Professionals don’t have to fear ‘missing out’ on anything. Even if it’s not about travelling anywhere, staying and home and getting some extra sleep helps in recharging the body and soul. And when the New Year starts, life can restart rejuvenated.