How to Avoid Staff Not Using Their Holidays (and Hitting an End of Year Crunch)
11th December 2015
It can be difficult to navigate the world of ‘employee time off’. Sick days, holidays and long-term leave (including maternity leave) can place a lot of stress on your business.
Sam is a shift worker at a supermarket. When he requires a day off, he requests a paid holiday. Sam’s manager then has the task of working the rota around Sam’s day off, making sure that he isn’t scheduled and ensuring that there are other people available to cover that shift.
Anna is a full-time employee in an office. Her day off means that her emails go unanswered, or need to be passed on to someone else. Either her work doesn’t get done, or other members of the team will need to pick up the slack. Anna’s employers can’t just ‘call someone in’ to cover the gap that she’s leaving, because every member of Anna’s team will already be in the office. Workloads often need to be planned around holidays in situations such as Anna’s, with colleagues needing to know if someone is unavailable.
The situations with Sam and Anna are challenging enough (though thankfully made easier using Staff Squared’s Absence Management features), but are made even more difficult when large numbers of employees store up their holiday entitlement.
What can happen to holiday entitlement at the end of the year?
Many employees will deliberately save up their holiday entitlement, for a long break over Christmas and the New Year (if that’s when your business year ends). In other cases, it’s completely accidental – people don’t have a specific reason to take time off, and so they don’t bother until they absolutely have to.
What impact can end of year holidays have on a business?
Anna has saved her holiday entitlement for extra time off over Christmas. She’s looking forward to visiting her extended family. Anna is part of a team of five and her colleagues Joan and Richard also have important Christmas plans. All three have requested to use their holiday entitlement on the same dates.
Harry and Jack are also on Anna’s team. They both had short holidays earlier in the year, but didn’t use much of their holiday allowance. They’ve been able to fit all of their other commitments around the working week, and have completely forgotten how much holiday entitlement they’re owed. Both are relying on a reminder to use up their remaining allowance, but neither have a pressing need to take a certain day off.
These scenarios are a scheduling nightmare. It’s often impossible to give everyone the time off that they need and deserve!
How can you encourage employees to take their annual leave?
You might think that staff holiday requests are out of your hand, but as an employer there are many things that you can do to improve the situation. Avoid staff not using their holidays by:
Promising a shared workload
Office-based employees, in particular can have concerns about their workload. A day off can often mean returning to a mounting pile of paperwork, a full inbox and some very tight deadlines. Many office workers feel that it’s pointless taking a day off work to unwind, if the result is a much more stressful return.
Employers can promise that the workload will be shared, to allay these fears. Work should be passed to other members of the team, though it’s important not to put too much pressure on everybody else. The employee taking time off should also be given alternative contact details to add to an ‘out of office’ autoreply, so that any urgent customer enquiries can be dealt with by someone else.
Providing ‘extra holiday’ incentives
Time off is vital for employee motivation and morale, even if a worker doesn’t realise it. Sometimes, all it takes is a little extra push to show somebody what they’re missing. If you have an employee incentive scheme, consider offering time off work as your reward – an extra hour in bed, leaving an hour early or giving someone an extra holiday (at your discretion) can really change someone’s view!
It might seem counter-intuitive to add to someone’s annual leave allowance, but often it’s a system that works. An employee might leave work early and discover the joy of avoiding rush hour traffic, might realise how nice it is to get extra time with their family with a full day off or might enjoy a visit to their favourite attraction without the weekend crowds. That realisation might be the only thing that they need to encourage them to take more holidays, and as you’re providing the incentive you also have more control over when the extra time off will be taken.
Splitting the ‘accidental’ from the ‘deliberate’
Earlier we mentioned Anna, who has deliberately saved her holiday entitlement in hope of a long Christmas break, and Jack who accidentally has too many days saved up. It’s likely that Jack will want to use up his holiday entitlement, rather than losing it. If Jack has until 31st December to use up his holiday allowance then he’ll be asking for Christmas time off, just like Anna – they’ll be applying for the same days off, and adding to the scheduling nightmare.
By setting your own rules about when the ‘holiday year’ ends, you can split the ‘accidental’ from the ‘deliberate’. Make the year run from April to April, and if Jack isn’t desperate for time off over Christmas then he has a few more months in which to use his annual holiday allowance. He’ll stay at work, keeping things ticking over, whilst Anna enjoys a Christmas break.
Making employees aware of the ‘rules’
As an employer you’re within your rights to create a thorough annual leave policy. You should make employees aware of times when you get a lot of holiday requests, and should make it clear that people need to book these dates long in advance.
Employers are able to specify that holiday allowance must be used (or must NOT be used) within certain dates. If January is a very busy month, an employer must make it clear in advance that January time off will not be allowed.
You can specify when an employee’s holiday should be taken, as long as you’ve agreed this in their employment contract. You can legally require them to use all of their holiday allowance on Fridays, for example, and you’re able to dictate that they cannot use more than two days at once (or any other number of days – it doesn’t have to be two!). Of course, it’s important to have a good reason for your requirements – don’t make unreasonable demands of your employees simply because you can, or you leave yourself open to claims of unfair treatment.
Provide plenty of warnings if you’re coming to the end of the year and people still aren’t using their allowance. As long as you’ve done that, you’re within your rights to refuse time off in that final busy month – operate a ‘use it or lose it’ policy, and if too many people have accrued too much annual leave then you’re able to write it off. Alternatively, why not offer a ‘buy back’ option allowing employees to sell their remaining annual leave for a financial bonus?