Having some quality time off work, as we’ve written before, can have an array of both physical and mental health benefits.

Obviously how much time off in total you end up with is ultimately determined by your employer - but with Christmas around the corner, we thought it might be interesting to look at which countries in Europe and other parts of the world have the most publicly recognised holiday days over the Christmas period (15th December to 15th January).

Of the countries we looked at, we found that:

  • Russia observed the highest number of public holidays over the Christmas period, with 7 days in total;
  • Montenegro and some parts of Bosnia were in joint 2nd place with 6 recognised days;
  • France, Belgium, Monaco, Portugal, the USA and some parts of Canada publicly observed the fewest, with 2 days in total over the period;
  • England Wales and Northern Ireland were at the lower end of the chart, observing 3 days publicly, while Scotland observes 4 days.

It’s also worth noting that in some countries such as France and the Netherlands, public holidays falling on weekends are not always transferred to the next working day; while they often are in other countries such as the UK and Russia.

The most obvious trend from the results is that countries with more Orthodox Christian traditions will tend to observe a higher number of holidays in early January, and therefore have more time off during the specific period we looked at.

That doesn’t mean that these countries will necessarily have more time off over the course of the whole year. In the UK, for instance, bank holidays are spread throughout the spring and summer.

It’s also important to note that governments alone don’t determine an employee’s total time off. Some holidays are statutory, but every employer is different. In addition to the public holidays observed in any one country, some businesses and organisations may offer additional holidays at their discretion.

In this piece, we’ll discuss why taking some time off to relax from the stresses of work - as well as knowing what you’re entitled to - is important for mental and physical health.

Christmas: Juggling Professional and Social Time

The run up to Christmas can undoubtedly be an exciting time; but it can be slightly overwhelming too. Many of us may have a seemingly never ending list of presents, decorations and events to organise (especially if you’re hosting the big day at home); and have all this to do while meeting professional commitments at work.

Time off work over the festive period can often be a contentious issue: some people may be given more holidays or discretionary days than others; and in some cases our workloads in the weeks before Christmas may increase, to offset the days where we aren’t at work.

While the rules and allowances set by individual employers obviously vary, some days are deemed to be public or ‘statutory’ holidays by a country’s government; so everyone at Christmas should, in theory, be entitled to at least a couple of days holiday in some form.

The relationship between time off and health

Why does time off work matter for our health? Not only does it give us a chance to relax and enjoy ourselves with family and friends, but it’s also essential in helping us to wind down from the stresses of professional life.

Work-related stress, as we’ve discussed before, is a prominent issue in our working culture. A 2014 study conducted by Mind and YouGov found that 56% of UK respondents found their job either ‘quite’ or ‘very’ stressful. And while a small or moderate amount of pressure may be motivating and help us to perform, going through considerable stress at work can have a significant impact on our mental well-being.

Stress can affect us physically too. It can disrupt how well we sleep, which can have an impact on our immune system and our ability to fight off infection. For some, stress can also exacerbate certain chronic illnesses. For instance, it can sometimes contribute towards flare-ups in inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis. People with IBS may also find that symptoms get worse during stressful periods.

If someone does have a particularly stressful job, there are several measures they can take to help reduce it, such as:

  • discussing or re-prioritising their workload with their employer
  • ensuring they aren’t regularly sleep-walking into overtime
  • not checking work emails or messages during the evening or at the weekend
  • and ensuring they take all the holidays they’re entitled to.

From an employer’s perspective, granting time off can help to improve productivity, workplace morale and employee retention.

So no matter which country you live in, whether you’re an employee or an employer, you shouldn’t underestimate the power of time off work.

Some considerations for the Christmas holidays

Many people use their time off at Christmas to see friends and family, and doing so can have a positive effect on health. Maintaining social bonds is beneficial for both mental and physical well-being, and has even been found to reduce the risk of premature mortality.

We’ve put together a list of considerations to keep in mind in the run-up to Christmas:

  1. Plan ahead. Not all companies follow the same policies when it comes to holidays, so make sure you’re aware of your entitlement over Christmas. The sooner you find out what your company’s policy is, the less likely you are to receive an unwanted surprise Christmas present (such as a shift or day’s work when you’re not expecting it).
  2. Think about using some annual leave. If you can, think about where the holidays fall, and whether you can use some annual leave to maximise your time off. For instance, this year the 25th and 26th of December fall on a Monday and Tuesday. If your place of work is closed on these days, then just three days of annual leave can add up to a whole ten consecutive days off work, which can feel like a substantial Christmas break.
  3. Make extra arrangements if you work shifts. If your occupation requires that you work over the Christmas period, try to arrange an alternative day or two to wind down and enjoy some time with your family and friends.
  4. Talk to your employer. If you’re feeling overwhelmed due to an excessive workload, it is a good idea to let your employer know so that they can help in any way possible.
  5. Schedule an obligation-free day. Have at least one day where you don’t plan anything. Take some time for yourself or enjoy a day at home with your family.
  6. Go for a walk. Spending time outdoors can help you to mentally ‘reset’ and spend quality time with family.