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Why aren’t Brits taking holidays?

4 September 2017 12 min read

Busy train station

For most employees, holiday leave is something they look forward to, a chance to break away from their daily routine and get some much-needed R&R. So isn’t it counter-intuitive when workers don’t use their paid leave allowances?

This is the case for the UK’s labor force.


The Current State of Holiday-Taking in the UK


In 2015, a YouGov survey reported that 33% of British workers were not taking their allocated annual leave because they’re too busy at work.

While the majority of the respondents cite heavy workload for not taking their annual leave, 13% claim that they feel they can’t take certain days off, while 4% are afraid of what their colleagues might think if they take time off.


This is further corroborated by a Direct Line Travel Insurance survey, which discovered that 4 million British employees don’t take their annual leave every year, with 34% claiming that their workload is too heavy, 22% claim that they only take holidays if they’re going away on a trip, while 21% don’t feel the need to take time off, and another 21% feel that their employer limits them when it comes to claiming their holiday entitlement.

According to a Trades Union Congress (TUC) report, workers feel compelled to work longer hours and take less time off due to the challenging economic climate.

On the other hand, TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, argues that “employees across the UK already work the longest hours in Western Europe and the recent increase will mean lower productivity, more stress and less time to have a life outside the office.”

Other factors that contribute to the pressure include heavier workloads, tighter deadlines, and fear of losing their job. It seems that British workers are willing to sacrifice their paid time off to show their employers that they’re performing to the best of their abilities.

Shaun Graham, a senior organiser for general union GMB, added that employers keep their staff levels down to save on costs and guilt-trip their employees to give up their holiday leave. “Employees are told to either take their holidays or lose them but are then put in a position where they find it impossible to take time off because of the potential impact on their clients.”

These statistics are a cause for concern for many employers and HR professionals. Workers are given paid holidays, as indicated in the EU Working Time Directive, to prevent workplace stress, depression, and illnesses. However, UK employees aren’t exercising their right to paid time off.


What Paid Annual Leave Should Employees Be Entitled To?


In the UK, employees who work five days a week are entitled to a statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks or 28 days of paid annual leave, including bank holidays and public holidays.

On the other hand, part-time workers are entitled to the same paid work leave, pro-rata. That’s 5.6 times your usual working week. If you’re working four days a week for instance, then you have 22.4 days of paid holiday leave. Here’s a pro-rata holiday calculator for those working irregular hours.

An employer can choose to offer more paid leave days than the minimum if they wish, however they can also exercise a certain amount of control when it comes to planning your holiday.

For example, when an employee asks for a week’s worth of holiday leave over a particular period, an employer can deny the request for that period, however, they cannot ask the employee to forgo taking their holiday completely, they simply have the authority to ask an employee to reschedule.

In a nutshell, workers have a legal right to the following:

  • A minimum of 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave
  • Being paid your normal salary during your holiday leave
  • Begin accruing holiday entitlement as soon as they start their job
  • Accrue holiday entitlement during maternity, paternity, and adoption leave
  • Accrue holiday entitlement while on sick leave
  • Request holidays at the same time as sick leave


Why It’s Important to Take Time Off



When workers don’t take their paid holidays, it leads to more problems for the employer. According to the YouGov survey noted above, there has been an increase in sickness-related absenteeism. 49% of workers claim that they had taken genuine sick leave in the past year, while 5% admitted to feigning illness to skip work.

Managing employee attendance is already challenging in itself, much more so when employees are absent unexpectedly.

Holiday leave allows employees to take paid time off from work so that they can take a break, rest, and recharge. Here’s why you should place more importance on employees using their holiday leave.


1.     Improve Job Performance and Increase Productivity

Studies show that too many hours or days of continuous working is counter-productive. Ideas that once flowed will easily dry up, and tasks that once were performed quickly become exceedingly difficult.

According to Allison Gabriel, assistant professor of Virginia Commonwealth University who studies job demands and employee motivation, workers have a limited pool of cognitive resources and constantly draining them results in a decline in performance and a decrease in productivity. Problem-solving tasks can become excruciatingly hard and lead to poor decision-making.

Taking time off lets workers restore their cognitive resource pools. When an employee is well-rested, they can think and perform at their best. Furthermore, creativity can be enhanced when employees take time away from work to pursue ideas of their own.


2.     Promote Health and Wellness

Nothing can be more stressful than being mentally and physically tired of working every day. If your staff is putting in too many hours, then they may not be getting enough rest, which then results in stress. This is detrimental to the general health and wellbeing of employees in the long run. For some, chronic stress can lead to depression and mental illness.

When a person is stressed, the body releases stress hormones that can cause a variety of physiological, psychological, and emotional changes, in the elevation of heart rate, constriction of blood vessels, the elevation of blood pressure, increase in respiratory rate, and so on.

While the body is designed to protect you from stress (also known as the flight or fight response), the constant release of the stress hormones can put one’s health at serious risk. A person experiencing chronic stress is prone to a weak immune system, heart disease, diabetes, vascular illnesses, and other conditions.

Taking time off work can help prevent chronic stress. A period of rest will help the body get back to its normal state of well-being. If your employees keep going without taking significant breaks, then the body will not get a chance to balance itself out.


3.     Prevent Illness and Accidents in the Workplace

Your employees have worked diligently for months. By this time, they are tired, sluggish, and weak. Incessant stress can run down an employee’s immune system, making them prone to illnesses and viral diseases such as the Flu. This causes them to take unprecedented time off work, which results in losses in profit and productivity for the company.

Additionally, tired and stressed employees are prone to making mistakes. Even the tiniest oversight can potentially cause dramatic effects. The need for safety is further amplified when employees work with machines, hazardous materials or chemicals.


4.     Improve Relationships

Employees going through chronic stress tend to also experience headaches, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and sometimes even depression. They become short on patience and may take it out on their families, friends, colleagues, and clients.

Chronic stress makes it hard for employees to function and perform at their best, be it at work or at home. Relationships can suffer when all an employee’s time and energy is spent on work, leaving little or no time for their personal lives.

While work and career are a huge part of personal success, it’s not the be-all and end-all. Taking annual holidays can help employees get their minds off work-related concerns, which will help them feel more relaxed.

Once back at work, their mental state will be more positive, thereby improving their relationships not only with their co-workers but also with their families and friends outside of work.


5.     Promote Work-Life Balance

Although the workweek in the UK is limited to 48 hours, some employees work longer hours (with written consent) since the UK has opted out of the EU Working Time Directive. As such, work demands are standing in the way of commitments outside of work, and work-life balance is becoming quite an issue for employees.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of the pressure of demanding work culture in the UK, making them vulnerable to mental health problems.

When your employees take annual leave, they can become more resilient and resistant to mental health problems and achieve a better work-life balance.


How to Encourage Employees to Use Their Annual Leave



So, now that you’re convinced you to need to encourage your employees to use their holiday leave, here are a few tips you should follow:


1.     Express concern for their health and well-being.

Holiday leave is there for a reason. It’s for employees to take time off work and rest. Letting your employees know that you’re concerned about their health and well-being can make a huge difference.

A Mental Health Foundation survey found that more than 30% of employees feel unhappy or very unhappy about the time they devote to work.

You can tell them that, for their hard work to carry on, they need rest and should use their holidays up to aid personal growth.

Letting employees know that you care about them not only makes them feel that it’s okay to take a break, but it also increases employee engagement and job satisfaction.


2.     Introduce a workplace presenteeism policy.

There’s too much work to do and deadlines to meet. So, instead of staying home and resting, some employees still come to work sick. However, it’s counter-productive to work when ill. Often, performance is subpar and employees become disengaged from the work and the company.

Also, employees who come into work sick can cause cross-contamination. Other employees can become ill as well, and productivity will suffer further.

Outline where your company stands on employees coming to work sick. Help employees understand why they should stay at home when they’re coming down with something. Where possible, implement a work-from-home policy that makes it possible for employees to still complete their daily tasks while isolating themselves from the rest of the staff.

If you don’t have an absence policy for your organisation, take the time to create and communicate one.


3.     Implement a rollover limit.

When asked why they don’t take their full holiday leave, 45% (graph above) of employees responded that they could roll over their holidays to the following year.

While this is a valuable perk to provide your employees, some may abuse the policy. Worst case scenario, it encourages employees to tire themselves out for a whole year (or more) so that they can roll their holidays over.

Implementing a rollover limit can encourage employees to use up their annual leaves by the end of the year.


4.     Show them you’re happy that they’re taking time off.

Some employees are hesitant about taking time off due to fear of what their bosses or colleagues may think. When you verbalise and demonstrate to your employees that you want them to use up their holidays, you’re letting them know that it’s okay.

Invest time and effort into creating a balanced workplace culture. If an employee isn’t consuming their allocated paid leave, investigate this further. This shows interest in their personal lives and demonstrates that you care about your employees.

An emotionally healthy workplace culture where managers care about their employees’ personal lives will increase loyalty, job satisfaction rates, and engagement levels.


5.     Don’t let their workload overflow.

A third of employees claim that they’re too busy at work to take a holiday. Work is overflowing, and employees know that taking time off doesn’t make it go away.

Keep an eye on how much your employees are being asked to do, and make sure that whatever tasks come their way, they can complete them and still have time to take their much-needed holiday.

Take some time to review the strengths and weaknesses of every employee so that you can determine how much work they can take on and how well they can do it. Open communication is key.

Sit down with an employee and talk about how you can help them take their holiday. Make it happen. Find someone to cover for them while they’re away, and be willing to push back deadlines or deliverables, if possible.

Don’t ask them to work longer hours before a holiday. Just because they’re taking time off, doesn’t mean that they need to earn it with extra work.


6.     Organise your company’s employee attendance and absence management.

How many seats are filled today? Who is at work? Whose homesick? How many absences have a specific employee incurred? These are some of the pertinent questions related to employee absence management.

Organise your company’s sickness management processes more efficiently to determine how many people can take a holiday at one time without sacrificing productivity and profit.

Some managers refuse to grant a holiday request without even realising that there are enough heads to make up for the lost seat. So before you say no, be sure to review your employee attendance and absence management processes.


Key Takeaways


Time off allows employees to rest, relax, recover, and rejuvenate. It encourages a healthy mental state and helps them recharge their creative juices. More importantly, it increases productivity and prevents stress-related illnesses and accidents.

Taking a holiday not only improves employees’ health but also enhances their state of well-being.

Need help with holiday management software for your employees? Book a free demo to see the difference Edays can make to your business.

See Edays in action >


Katrina Bennett People Director at edays
September 4, 2017

Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.