Is Your Company Losing Out Because Staff Are Not Using Their Holiday Entitlement?

As an employer in the United Kingdom, you will be fully aware that your team of staff are entitled to take annual leave from their positions and perhaps, you might even be aware that not all of your staff are taking off the full amount of time that they are entitled to. Maybe the amount of holidays staff are entitled to at your firm is the statutory minimum or perhaps you have different holiday entitlements for staff depending on their position or length of service.

Whatever the situation at your company, according to a recent YouGov survey, almost a third of UK workers are not using their full holiday allowance and this is a concern because it appears there is an increasing culture in the United Kingdom where work life balance and staff wellbeing is being neglected. And this is not just a problem for employers; it’s a problem for staff, too.

Why people don’t take time off work

What is the culture in your business when it comes to staff taking time off work? Does everyone use their full allowance and feel comfortable in doing so, or have you got people who you just know are going to be there, in the workplace, every day? If you have got a team of those people, there could be a number of reasons why they aren’t using up their annual leave each year. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons cited in the survey – and therefore, some of the reasons why your staff might not be taking time off work:

  • Heavy workload – This was one of the reasons cited in the survey as to why staff are not taking time off work. They feel like they haven’t got the time to take a holiday because they have so much to do. Some staff worry about booking holidays because while they are not in work the emails and the To Do tray piles high in their absence. They feel it is simply not worth taking the time off because the workload will be even greater on returning to work.
  • Felt they couldn’t take time off – In some workplaces there is a culture where staff feel they can’t take time off work and so they don’t even bother asking. Of course, this might not necessarily be the case but if it is made to seem like a difficult task – like the staff member feels they are asking for a special favour rather than their entitlement – many staff just ignore their ignore entitlement and come into work each day.
  • Worried what work would think – This is similar to the reason above but it can also be applied to colleagues as well. It’s not just all about employers and if there is a culture where it is commonplace that staff do not take all of their annual leave, those staff who do want to take their holidays might worry about what their colleagues would think of them when they do so.
  • Schedule clashes – This is perhaps a common reason as to why staff are not taking their full annual leave and perhaps you have had the same issues in your business. If too many staff want to be off at the same time, then employers can only give the holidays to so many people. Those staff who are unable to get those particular dates often do not reschedule their time off and end up working through the year. Clashes in the holiday schedule can be a particular issue for employers and employees during the summer months, especially when it is school holidays. Other schedule clashes can arise when a staff member’s spouse, children or friends can’t get the same time off from their respective workplaces or school so the holidays are not taken.
  • Don’t feel they need to take the time off – Yes, this is definitely not just a post about employers and the culture they create in their workplace. It’s also about staff taking responsibility, too. Many staff in workplaces simply do not take their annual leave because they feel they don’t need to take the time off.
  • Holidays can roll over into next year so some leave that for a longer break – Perhaps you have this type of rolling system in your company where, if staff don’t take their full holiday entitlement in the year, then they are able to carry it over into the following year. Some staff like to save days, especially if they know they will need extra time off work, for whatever reason, the following year.
  • Staffing shortages – This can be a problem for small and medium sized enterprises, especially. Staff are not taking annual leave due to staffing shortages and SME’s often don’t have the numbers to play with when it comes to covering people’s absence from work because of holidays. If it is a company where a close-knit team operates, staff often feel they don’t want to leave their colleagues in the lurch by taking off for a fortnight in the sun.
  • Not giving enough notice – Depending on the nature of your business, there might be times when you, as an employer, need all hands on deck and no staff away on holiday. Perhaps there are important projects where strict deadlines need to be met. Sometimes, if staff – especially new staff, for example – are unaware of this, they might not give you enough notice about their holidays and then you are unable to give them the time off that they want. These staff are then not choosing alternative dates for their holidays.

And it’s not just about not taking holidays from work that is a problem in British work culture. It’s the fact that many British workers can’t seem to take a break; a little quality time out from work to recharge the batteries. Perhaps, as an employer, you’re guilty of this, too, as well as your staff.

Even if staff do take time off and use their full holiday entitlement from work, these days, laptops, tablets and smartphones mean we are constantly connected with whoever we want to be in touch with. Many staff, when they go on holiday to the sun, still take at least one of these appliances with them and will, at the very least, check emails and reply to them. They are never fully switched off from work.

And what about in the place of work, itself? Are your staff taking a break from whatever their role is? During the actual work day, these surveys have also found that many of Britain’s workers are not taking a full lunch hour or the full breaks they are entitled to throughout the day. Again, if there is a culture of this in your workplace that has just developed over time, staff who want to take their full breaks might worry about what you or their fellow colleagues will say if they are away from their desk or workstation for what is perceived to be too long. They don’t want to be seen as shirking their respınsibilities. Other staff might not take breaks because they feel their workload is too heavy.

How Many Holidays Are Your Staff Entitled To?

First of all, as an employer, you have the right to refuse a request for leave if it is inconvenient for the company in some way. For example, perhaps it is summer and too many staff want to take the same days off from the workplace. Whatever the case is for the refusal, your company still needs remain within the terms of your leave policy and staff should be given alternative available dates.

Following a European directive, United Kingdom staff entitled are entitled to take 28 days holiday per year including bank holidays. Did you know that this is actually the lowest amount of holidays throughout the whole of Europe? British workers are working more days than their European counterparts and the norm throughout Europe is actually 33 days. The reason for this is that the United Kingdom has fewer bank holidays than other countries.

Some British companies work to that minimum entitlement whereas others – perhaps your company – offer other holiday entitlements in the staff contract depending on the role or length of service for example. If this is written in the employee’s contract, they are entitled to take that leave.

Famously, Richard Branson introduced a no-limits system at Virgin last year whereby staff who control his finances can take as much annual leave as they like. While this probably looks good on paper – and very generous of Mr Branson, of course – a work culture like the one that appears to exist currently in the UK, where staff feel they can’t afford to take the time off work for various reasons, could mean staff take off less time than they would actually do normally.

Other companies have introduced similar systems and maybe your company is considering introducing this type of system, too. For companies that do operate these type of no holiday limit policies, perhaps the employers need to take as much responsibility as the staff do in ensuring workers take a break.

Staff Not Using Their Holiday Entitlement – Is It Beneficial To The Employer?

It could be easy to assume that if your staff are not using their full holiday entitlement, that this is happy days for you as an employer. After all, you don’t have the headache of staff being absent and having to arrange cover. Your life becomes much easier because you’ve always got your regular team of people on the job, knowing exactly what they are doing and therefore, this increases your productivity, right?

Well, according to studies, this assumption is incorrect and if your staff are not making use of their holiday entitlement, it could actually be detrimental to your company in the long run.

  • Staff burnout – We all need to take time out occasionally and those people who remain constantly on the job can eventually burn themselves out. This is now a bad situation for the company and the member of staff.
  • Increase in sick leave – Workers who don’t take a break, especially if your company is the type of business where jobs can be demanding and stressful, can eventually end up making themselves ill. This could result in your company having lots of staff on either short term and even long term sick leave. Interestingly, the recent YouGov survey also found that, as well as genuine illnesses, some staff even faked illness to take sick leave because they didn’t want to ask for holidays. This is clearly not good for the productivity, financial situation or effectiveness of your company.
  • Increase in staff turnover – I’ve written in the past about how the notion of a ‘job for life’ is becoming a thing of the past. There are many reasons why staff choose to leave their current post to move on to pastures new but one of those reasons is because they feel they can’t take time off from their current post. So, if your staff are not using their full holiday entitlement, rather than it being beneficial for you, you could find yourself with a lot of ‘comings and goings’ in the workplace with valued staff leaving and lots of training up of new staff.

What Can Employers Do To Make Sure Staff Use Their Holiday Entitlement?

It’s all about communication and looking after staff by ensuring they take their full holiday entitlement. What is the culture in your company? Do staff feel able to – and comfortable in doing so – ask for holidays? Staff taking holidays is beneficial for your business because research has shown that those workers who do take a break, they come back into the workplace feeling refreshed, batteries recharged. Their performance is much better.

  • Stress to your staff that it is okay to ask for holidays. A healthy work life balance is essential and workers need to be made to feel that it is perfectly acceptable to ask for time off as part of their holiday entitlement. It is beneficial both for your company and for your staff if you stress the importance of using holiday entitlement. More and more, British workers are feeling under pressure to be constantly at work and this situation could be happening in your company, even if you might not be aware of it.
  • Factor in the situation that not all of your staff are going to be in the workplace at any one time. If this becomes a culture in your company then staff will feel relaxed in asking for their holiday entitlement and you will be organised for their absence either by employing staff to do temping jobs or by arranging for other staff to cover their leave. If the nature of your company is such that students and young people can do entry level jobs to cover staff absences due to holidays, you could have a recruitment policy where you employ students. This could be summer holiday jobs so that your own staff can take holidays or Christmas jobs, for example. There are lots of advantages for employers who take on students and young people.
  • Make sure all staff know the company holiday policy. Are all your staff aware of their holiday entitlement whilst working at your company? Make it a focal point in your business so that, not only are they aware of how many days they are allowed to take, they are also made to feel that it is acceptable to ask for those days. A visible diary – either physical or online, which shows which staff are on holiday and when not only makes the idea of using holiday entitlement acceptable but it also encourages staff to choose alternative dates if there are other people off on the dates they wanted.
  • Can you cater for individual needs? A good employer relationship with staff means they will be comfortable in asking for particular requirements. Larger companies might find this easier than others as there are lots of other people to cover absence but SME’s can also offer flexibility, too.
  • Keep staff informed about leave – If holiday entitlement is a focal point of your company then open communication about taking holidays should promote more understanding. As mentioned above, as an employer, you are entitled to refuse someone holiday leave if there really is a genuine reason why you need them to be in the workplace at that time. Perhaps there is an important deadline to meet or a company project where you need all hands on deck. If this is the case, being open about that and letting all staff know why they need to be there and why that’s important for their jobs and the company will more likely result in staff being willing to work around that and rearrange holidays for another time.

What Are The Benefits To Your Company When Staff Use Holiday Entitlement?

It’s a win-win situation when your staff take their full annual leave. After a break, whether it’s a break in the sun or just some time out, most staff are refocussed when they return to work and they feel re-energised.

This means all that young talent you harnessed via apprenticeships, or through graduate programmes, for example, is more likely to stay around in your company for a while longer. A break means they should continue to have all of those innovative ideas that you employed them for in the first place and they will feel happier and valued at work.

Taking time out, both you and your staff, is vital for well-being and for your mental health and your company will benefit in the long run if all staff are encouraged to take their holidays.

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