Take a break - for your sanity

FreeView: Lisa Markwell

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The Independent Online

A week since half-term ended, most working parents are probably still doing loads of washing and packing away the board games. Well, the ones who took holiday at half-term, that is. New research from Thomson Holidays suggests that 49 per cent of us don't take our holiday allowances. In fact, one in five parents say they can't take enough time off to have a holiday at all during the year.

At a time when everyone is belt-tightening, taking a holiday might seem like a luxury that cannot be afforded, but even if we stayed holed up at home with a stack of DVDs, corn for popping and some "project" that everyone can get involved with, it's crucial to spend time together.

That old cliché of nobody wanting "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" on their headstone is a cliché for a reason. Whether it's fear of losing a job or dread of the mundanity involved with family life, it's clear that nearly half of adults are really spending more time at the office.

The bravado around having your coat on the back of your office chair first in the morning, and staying so late that the motion-sensitive lights plunge you into darkness at your computer terminal in the evening is nonsense. Nobody likes a slacker, but when staff take a break, they generally come back to work refreshed and ready for the fray. I know that a week in a little house in rural Spain (booked eight months ago, when Ryanair had a "deal" on) made a massive difference to week one of dark nights.

But perhaps that's because I'd inadvertently booked a house with no internet access and no TV. Seven days in that environment felt like I'd taken my entire holiday allowance – it was the most restful break I'd had in years.

And do the 49 per cent who don't take their holidays – if they are also parents – realise the effect on their children? We spend much time encouraging them to work hard in school with the goal of "getting a good job", but if we demonstrate the importance of work beyond home life, that's dangerous. With a son facing GCSEs in the next few months, I can think of fewer carrots more enticing than the freedom to travel and the ability take nice holidays that earning affords you.

I don't know whether the Lloyds chief executive, Antonio Horta-Osorio took his full vacation entitlement, but I'm willing to hazard a guess that he didn't. Now he's desperately fatigued and signed off work. And with that in mind, it's worth getting in quick with the permanent pen on the 2012 office holiday chart ...