In the UK, full time employees are legally entitled to at least 5.6 weeks (28 days) of paid holiday a year – this applies to agency workers, those working irregular hours and those on zero hour contracts. Part time workers will receive less holiday depending on how many days they work, for example, someone working 3 days a week can expect 16.8 days a year. It’s up to the employer to decide whether this time includes bank holidays. Gov.uk provides a handy holiday entitlement calculator to work out annual leave.
Employers can allow staff to carry over or ‘bank’ a portion of untaken leave to the next year. If an employee is on parental or sick leave and thus unable to take their holiday entitlement an employer must allow them to carry over up to 20 days of their 28 days entitlement. Employees can also sometimes request payment in lieu of days taken, but this is at the discretion of the employer.
Yet when it comes to it, most people do not take their full entitlement of annual leave. Some roll the days over, but others simply lose the holiday entirely. In 2018 Glassdoor found that 40 percent of employees reported taking a maximum of only half of their holiday entitlement. The average UK employee took just 62 percent of their holiday days, with younger workers most likely to work through their holidays. The study reported 65 percent of 18-24 year olds and 60 percent of 25-34 year olds took less than 91 percent of their holiday allowance.
Skipping out on taking a break
Concerns that taking annual leave would lead to falling behind in work or impact negatively on promotion prospects were often cited. However, the most common reason given is that people are simply ‘too busy’ to take an extended break.
The build-up to taking time off work can, itself, be stressful. Once the holiday and all the associated practicalities and logistics are arranged there is the matter of tying up ‘loose ends’ at work. For some this can significantly raise stress levels ahead of a trip – we’ve all heard people saying they’ll need another holiday to get over this one. Not so surprising then, that holidaymakers reported that they enjoy just nine days out of a two week break. It takes them around two days to relax only for the tension to seep back in three days before the holiday ends.
Even once away people can find it difficult to switch off. These days many of us take our smart phones, tablets and laptops with us on holiday and it can prove all too tempting to log in to work, just to check how things are going. Around 40 percent of people admitted to setting good intentions aside by checking emails and making work-related calls during their holidays. Some people confessed to checking emails up to six times a day and making up to eight phone calls in just two weeks.
Annual leave makes business sense
On the face of it, it would seem good for business if staff do not take advantage of their full annual leave. After all the result is more days of work for the same money. However, research shows us that taking good quality time away from the workplace is good for employee wellbeing, staff moral and, ultimately, productivity. A recent study found that 60 percent of workers felt more productive after taking a holiday.
Supporting a positive work-life balance and actively encouraging employees to take their annual leave entitlement can reduce stress levels and prevent the onset of more serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or chronic stress. All of which can lead to reduced performance, higher absenteeism and in some cases long term sickness absence.
Lack of adequate breaks, during the day, week and year, can reduce focus and stifle creativity. It’s also not just mental health that can suffer from not taking time out. Overworking has been linked to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as a whole host of other health issues.
Annual leave should be seen, not as an inconvenience, but as an integral part of a healthy, successful business. It’s time to move on from toxic workplace attitudes that glorify long hours. Instead organisations should actively encourage staff to take their full annual leave safe in the knowledge that this will improve health, wellbeing and productivity.
Top Eight Tips for culture change
- Respect annual leave. When employees do book time off, organisations need to respect that. Personnel Today found that 36 percent of business owners contacted staff who were on annual leave. This has to stop.
- Regular reminders – Create a live, company-wide, document to allow employees to add their holiday and view others. This will help them to see that others are taking their holiday entitlement too while also encouraging general discussion to avoid clashes.
- Be proactive – Share the holiday document monthly. This way the holiday dates of colleagues don’t get forgotten, project planning can factor them in, last-minute panics can be avoided and everyone is regularly reminded to think about their own annual leave.
- Be open and up front – create a company policy that expressly details the organisation’s rules on annual leave and sets out your expectation that employees take their full entitlement unless they have good reason to carry over.
- Track holiday habits – Make sure that HR are tracking annual leave so that they can flag up when someone is not taking their entitlement. Not only can this offer an opportunity to discuss that employee’s concerns over why they feel unable to take a break, it may also help to bring issues such as mismanaged workloads, unrealistic expectations or inadequate staffing levels to the fore before they become problematic.
- Set a good example – Senior management can be the worst offenders. Whatever the size of the organisation, from SMEs to multi-national corporations it can sometimes seem impossible for management to find a ‘good’ time to take a break. Resist the urge to keep pushing your vacation to the back of the queue and embrace the importance of down-time to the good running of your mental and physical health and your business.
- Use it or lose it – This is a controversial point as most of the surveys looking at attitudes on annual leave found that employees will still fail to take their full annual leave entitlement even if they lose it. However, when combined with a positive attitude towards taking time out it could work to encourage employees to get booking.
- Incentivise – Including time off work as part of incentive packages for good work/successful projects etc. can demonstrate the importance that the organisation place on taking annual leave.
Evidence supports the arguments that time out and rest and relaxation results in increased performance. As counter intuitive as it may seem, less time in work really can mean greater productivity when we are there. As we begin to look to the summer, it’s well worth considering your organisation’s approach to annual leave, and perhaps it’s time for you to book that holiday.