If the latest research from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) is to be believed, we are a nation of workaholics.


Its recent study showed that two in five managers did not take their full annual leave allowance in 2013. More than half felt the need to work while on holiday, with 80 per cent admitting to responding to emails, taking phone calls or even popping into the office while supposedly on leave.

The ILM has expressed concern about the findings, pointing out that work-life balance has a direct impact on performance, and is calling on managers to ensure workers have the opportunity to de-stress by taking the holiday they are entitled to.

There is, however, an interesting debate to be had around the whole issue of holidays. For some people, the prospect of going away with the family can be more stressful than staying in the office. There are passports to find, planes to catch, not to mention the packing, the weather and the pressure to make sure everyone from fractious toddlers to grumpy teenagers has a good time.

Many employees also find it hard to switch off from work, fearing they will return to an overflowing in-box and a backlog of urgent tasks to deal with. Indeed, in the ILM survey, four in ten employees reported returning from holiday feeling more stressed than when they left.

Others argue, however, that holidays are essential and that people need time to relax, refresh and rewind. According to a report in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, the leader of Germany’s main opposition party feels so strongly about the issue that she is suggesting a summer holiday is a basic ‘right’ and that travel vouchers should be provided free to those on benefits.

US professor Dr Mareta G expresses a slightly less extreme view in a recent blog post on LinkedIn. Until recently, a self-confessed ‘staycation’ advocate, she has recently been won over to the benefits of getting away from it all. Taking yourself out of your usual environment, she says, gives you a chance to reconnect with yourself, your family, friends and nature – and is an important opportunity to recharge your batteries so you can return to work ready for the next set of challenges.

What’s interesting is that if you look at the body of research around engagement and performance, what comes out consistently, is that being in control and having choices is what motivates people and makes them more productive.

Organisations do, of course, need to have some rules and procedures around holidays – but maybe they also need to introduce a bit of flex so that managers can look at the individual needs and drivers of the people in their team?

Is it really the end of the world, for example, if someone doesn’t use up every last drop of their annual leave entitlement before the end of the year? Maybe a bit of flexibility around carrying holiday entitlement over would allow people to take leave when it would be most beneficial to them, rather than scrambling to take their remaining days at a time when they’re really busy and are likely to spend their time off worrying about what’s waiting for them when they get back?

On the flip side, organisations do also need to make sure that heavy workloads are not making it impossible for people to take holiday because they are under so much pressure – or because they or their manager are not managing time effectively.

Technology like an absence management software can do much to support managers in the task of making sure people get the opportunity to take the holiday they need at a time that works for both them and the business.

HR systems can help track both absence and performance, so that managers can identify potential issues. They can see, for example, if there is a link between people who are regularly not using up their holiday – and those who are performing poorly or taking a lot of time off sick.

Equally, HR will be able to pick up if there are patterns emerging in certain teams that might raise cause for concern. If the majority of people in one department are not using up their holiday entitlement, for example, it could point to an unrealistic workload or a resourcing issue.

Automated systems can also help managers co-ordinate annual leave in their team more effectively – providing them with an overview of who’s off when so that they can plan to cover workloads and make sure key tasks are covered during peak holiday times – making it less likely they will need to contact staff with urgent queries while they are away.

How important do you think it is for employees to take their full holiday entitlement? What strategies do you use to make sure people get the chance to relax and de-stress in a way that’s appropriate for them?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, or tweet us at @CezanneHR

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.