Under UK law, full-time employees must receive at least 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave. This equates to 28 days per year and might include bank holidays.
As many companies offer additional days or the option to buy more, can it really be that people aren’t taking them?
ACAS reports that only half of UK employees take all of their annual leave and the Glassdoor Annual Leave Survey found employees only take around three quarters (77%) of their holiday entitlement .
ACAS also found that the most common reason for not taking full entitlement was the fear of falling behind. This was followed by wanting a pay-rise, so clearly job and financial security are huge motivators for working, when instead, we should be taking breaks.
So, what are the other reasons?
E4S looked into the reasons people were avoiding using all their holiday entitlement and found a variety of explanations:
- Heavy Workload: It can often feel like time off will cause the company to crumble, and that breaks are best at quieter times (not the day before a deadline!). But the heavy workload is in itself a reason why people need breaks, which many people fail to understand.
- Felt they couldn’t take time off: Regardless of the workload, unfair pressure from bad managers shouldn’t cost your employees their health. Ensure your workplace is bully-free.
- Worried what work would think: Bad managers again, or just job insecurity? Communicate with your people that holidays are OK.
- Schedule clashes: Balancing a schedule is hard, so be sure to encourage your people to take holiday days throughout the year and you won’t have issues around Christmas!
- Don’t feel they need to take the time off: If your people are happy and doing great work, you should be happy too. Usually though, the signs of burnout occur long after a break is due, so if your people seem worn out, make sure to raise it.
- Holidays can roll over into next year so some leave that for a longer break: Some companies allow a few holiday days to carry over but be aware that this can wreak havoc for schedules.
- Staffing shortages: This point echoes the others, but make sure you spread days off throughout the year.
- Not giving enough notice: This might mean your people are just not informed about company policy or best practices. It may mean you lack resources.
These reasons relate mainly to falling behind and letting people down, so a cultural shift is required. Make sure your people know they can take a break when required.
Are your employees really in the office?
In the UK, on average, we work the longest daily hours of any EU country(although Greece has slightly longer hours as a weekly average).
But despite doing more, we achieve less. In 2015 we were producing 23% less output per hour than German workers, and we are still behind. As of March 2019, we were the joint least-productive EU nation, so there is evidently still a lot of work to do.
This may be because we are overworked and just going through the motions. Lots has been said about presenteeism – that’s workers turning up ill and infecting colleagues, just to say, ‘I’m here’.
A BBC survey found that more than 40% of employees said their work was affected by health problems and said, ‘‘it’s obvious that if we're not at our best, then we’re less productive employees.’’This sounds like common sense, yet presenteeism continues to rise.
People need rest. Letting them work while ill will not only make others sick, but the sick workers will not be thinking straight or have any energy. The result is low productivity and more mistakes – while you cannot force people to take holidays exactly when you say, it’s really important to bring holiday time up if you sense they need a rest.
So, make sure people are coming in ready to do a job, not out of fear they might lose one.
The risks of overworking
Overworking might seem like a great way to get promoted, but a recent study in The Lancet showed that people who work long hours face a 33% increase in the risk of a stroke.
Just think about that for a moment.
While we all complain from time to time about being ‘overworked and underpaid’, or ‘work killing us’, we don’t mean it in its truest sense. But yes, too much work really might kill us.
Despite this, UK workers don’t act upon news like this kind. A survey conducted by British Airways last year revealed that ‘one-third of working Brits did not use up their annual leave in 2017, losing an average of four days each and 69% of Brits did not take a two-week holiday.’
This means UK workers do not understand the importance of a break, so check in with them regularly to stay aware of their state of wellbeing. Make sure to check-in with them regularly to understand any pressures they are facing and suggest taking a break if you think they need it.
To understand your people better, link-up with Talent Check-ins. Click here for more info.
Burnout is everywhere
So how exactly did it get to this?
Historically, people got ill or injured at work in hard physical jobs. But in post-industrial nations, these issues are rarer, but burnout has replaced them.
We’ve already discussed the dangers of mental health issues at work, but now it seems there are serious physical risks to a lack of rest.
Work hours are unpredictable, and people feel pressure to work longer towards deadlines. This is even more true for gig-workers, who may work unpredictable hours with no guaranteed wage – the result is stress and exhaustion.
Even part-time workers can face burnout, especially as the time they’re at home may include childcare or other stressful commitments.
This means part-time work may equal full-time burnout.
To read more about burnout, click here.
Where does pressure come from?
It’s been said we’re ‘’sleepwalking into a crisis of childhood’’ as a society because children are under so much pressure to perform and have been for a long time. People starting work now would have grown up with many of the pressures that experts are shining the spotlight on now, so pressure feels like the norm for many people when it should be a sign that things are going wrong, and they need time off.
What do the experts say?
In her book ‘The Management Shift’, Vlatka Hlupic discusses ways that employees can be empowered. She identified common trends to help employees and pointed out the importance of instilling values, purpose and a collaborative spirit in your people to get good results.
She illustrates this with these points from Peter Drucker, which are great for ensuring your employees are happy and not afraid to take a break:
The relevance of the task needs to be understood by the employee: Why would anyone do anything they find pointless? They wouldn’t, so make sure employees understand why they are so important, and they will become happy engaged and avoid getting run down.
Employees need to be given autonomy: Valued employees are more likely to immerse themselves in their work and achieve more. Replace micromanagement with an autonomous, empowered workforce and they will not feel the need to prove themselves by doing more.
Focus on quality: If employees focussed on quantity are burnt out, then employees focussed on quality are not. By creating great work, employees are happier. Your business will be too.
Emphasis on continuous learning: Could it be that people work without a break because they are stuck in the same old rut, going through the motions each day? New skills add variety, so keep your people engaged with further training.
Workers should be treated as an asset, not a cost:
Let your employees know that their work is appreciated so they don’t feel overburdened, meaning they’ll produce their best work too.
So, invest in the wellbeing of your people to prevent this terrible trend from increasing. Here are our tips to help with employee wellbeing:
- Promote outdoor activities at work, like walking or running groups, as well as offering discounts on gyms or cycle-to-work participation.
- Mental health training for HR is a growing and much-needed trend. Your business should always employ someone who can help overworked colleagues.
- Consider flexibility – If colleagues need time to see occupational therapists, take a long weekend to recharge the batteries or have family issues which they need time for, offer flexible hours.
- Ensure that workloads are realistic and make sure the work can be done by one person, or if extra personnel will be required.
- Know where to point them for help. If employees are not taking a break due to work pressure, either discuss their workload or if it’s worse than that, be aware of how to access support services.
Essentially, we all need a break from time to time, even if we love our jobs and things are going great in all areas of our lives.
While it’s easy to view any employees who don’t take holidays as free labour, not investing in their wellbeing, or missing the signs of burnout will be a disaster for your business.
So get to know your people, engage them in their work and be there when they need you.
Your people are your greatest asset.
To understand the importance of employee engagement, click here to see the impact.