Which holiday camp do you fall into? Have you meticulously planned your annual leave, booking time off well in advance to make sure you make the use of every last drop of holiday? Or do you book holiday time into your calendar, only to cancel it because you’re too busy – and then find that at the end of the year, you’re struggling to use up your full allowance?
If you’re in the latter camp, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that only one in three of us actually take our full holiday entitlement –with almost half of UK employees also admitting they are so loathe to take time away from the office that they even struggle in when sick.
In the UK, most workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year (known as statutory entitlement), including part time workers on a pro rata basis. Although employees are not required to take all 5.6 weeks holiday, they must take at least four weeks of statutory leave – and depending on your company policy, may carry over holiday not taken to the next year, usually a limited number of days.
It’s all part of the ‘always on’ culture which has gradually taken hold over recent years. In a challenging and constantly changing business environment, people often feel reluctant to take time off, fearing they may miss out on important developments or opportunities or be seen as not committed to their jobs. They feel guilty about leaving colleagues to deal with a double workload while they’re away – or are worried they will come back to an overflowing inbox and a long list of urgent demands.
Indeed, recent research from the Institute for Leadership and Management (ILM) shows that rather than looking forward to their annual get-away, nearly three quarters of workers find the lead-up to their holidays highly anxiety-inducing – admitting they often return to work more stressed than when they left.
Now as an employer, if you’re understaffed, struggling to deliver to clients or up against tight deadlines, it’s tempting to breathe a quiet sigh of relief when employees seem reluctant to take holiday. But the reality is that people who are stressed and exhausted are unlikely to be performing at peak – and indeed may even make poor or costly decisions or mistakes.
While you can’t forcibly march people out of the door, it is important to be seen to be actively encouraging employees to take a break. Here are three reasons why treating holidays as a priority makes sound business sense:
Employees’ health suffers without adequate breaks
Failing to take enough time for rest and relaxation can have a negative impact on people’s health. They get stressed and worn out and find it difficult to sleep because they can’t switch off. They are tired and irritable at work, which often leads to unnecessary conflict with colleagues. Stress is now one of the top three causes of absence at work. It may sound counter-intuitive, but encouraging people to take time off on holiday will probably result in them taking less time off work overall. Taking the time to refresh and re-energise is vital for people’s mental and physical well-being and will result in a happier, healthier workforce and reduced levels of sickness absence.
It helps people develop fresh perspectives
A change of scene, the chance to spend quality time with friends or family or the opportunity to step away from the 9-5 and indulge a hobby or passion often helps people to develop a fresh perspective. Problems that seemed insurmountable before they went away seem less challenging with the benefit of some distance from work. Light-bulb moments about new ways of approaching work may have emerged while people are gazing out to sea. Petty disputes or difficult workplace relationships may seem less important when people have had a chance to step back and relax. Of course while people are away on holiday, it also gives others a chance to step up and develop their skills and take on new responsibilities, making the team more resilient and multi-skilled overall. You may miss people while they are away, but they will probably return to work with renewed energy and enthusiasm and will be able to make a greater contribution than before they left.
It allows you to fulfil your obligations as an employer
As an employer, you do have a certain responsibility to pay attention to people’s health and well-being. Driving employees into the ground with long hours and constant pressure doesn’t serve you or them well in the long run. Demonstrate to employees that you regard holidays as a priority by reminding them when they still have holiday left to take (the latest HR software systems make it easy for both individuals and their managers to keep track of how much holiday time is left). Make sure you don’t send out mixed messages – encouraging people to take holidays but then making it difficult for them to do so because of pressing workloads or tight deadlines. And of course make sure you walk the talk. If employees see leaders and managers taking regular holidays, they are much more likely to feel that it’s acceptable to do so too.
One action to take this week: Are people in your team taking their full holiday entitlement? Get an overview of how much annual leave has been taken and how much is still due – so that you can encourage people to book their time off and plan for resourcing while they are away.