Why Do UK Employees Fail to Use Their Holiday Entitlement? image

Why Do UK Employees Fail to Use Their Holiday Entitlement?

Staff Squared date icon26th June 2019

Tag iconManaging staff

It’s a legal requirement that employers provide their staff with a paid holiday allowance per year – after all, we all need time to unwind and recharge now and again. 

However, for whatever reason, there are a staggering number of employees who actually choose not to claim the holiday they are entitled to take. 

In fact, a concerning 40% of UK workers only took a maximum of half of their annual leave over the last holiday period, with 23% admitting to checking their work emails while they were away and a further 15% even logging in to do actual work off the clock just to avoid falling behind upon their return, according to a recent survey by Glassdoor. 

Another survey carried out by British Airways identified that, on average, employees in the UK are losing out on 4 whole days of holiday each per year. 

Why is this Happening?

Those statistics may come as a shock or even sound a bit strange – who doesn’t want to take time off of work, right? Yet, sometimes, a culture can arise within a workplace which somehow makes taking holiday feel like something unacceptable or that is looked down upon. 

During a 2015 survey by YouGov, almost a third of British workers confessed to not taking their whole entitlement of 28 days, giving reasons such as: 

Too much work – If staff have a heavy workload that seems completely unrelenting, it can put them off of wanting to take time off as they simply don’t have enough time to take any holiday. On top of this, they feel that if they did take leave, their work would only keep piling up and they would become even further behind when they return. 

Staff shortage – This is especially noticeable in smaller companies who don’t have enough staff or resources to cover the work of someone off on holiday, so employees feel guilty for taking time off and abandoning their colleagues.

Schedule clashes – There will always be a time when more than one employee wants to take time off during the same period, which is just not viable for a company. This is most likely to occur during the school holidays, for example. If they can’t have the time off that they requested, some staff members may not bother taking it later on in the year. 

Concern about what people will think – When a workplace culture where people generally just don’t take holiday has set in, employees may feel like their employer and colleagues will think badly of them for taking time off. Peer pressure accounts for an awful lot, especially in the working world.  

Other reasons employees may not use their holiday entitlement include: 

  • Wanting a pay rise. 
  • Feeling like nobody else is capable of doing the work to a good standard (or at all).
  • Unable to disconnect. 
  • Fear of losing the job. 

Why it’s Important to take Holiday

If you’re an employer, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your staff not taking time off of work for holiday is a good thing as it shows their deep commitment to their job and the company; however, employees failing to use their holiday entitlement is not something to be pleased about. 

Taking too few, or no, holidays can lead to all sorts of issues including: 

Burnout –  No matter how efficient or good at their job someone is, people become tired and jaded over time. Everyone needs to take a break to recharge and enjoy some time with their loved ones. A tired workforce will lead to slower productivity, a lower quality of work and a negative attitude that damages employee engagement. 

Sickness – Working too many hours for too long can lead to illness and work-related stress, resulting in short or long term absences. This can cause a number of problems for employers including having to find and organise suitable cover for the absent staff and reduced productivity due to fewer workers being available. 

Increased Staff Turnover – If staff feel that they are unable to take holiday despite their legal entitlement, they are more likely to search for alternative employment at a company that understands the importance of a work-life balance. The consequences of this will be the cost of losing the employee and recruitment of someone to replace them coupled with the loss of expertise of the people who know how to do the job well. 

What can Employers do?

I think it’s safe to say that foregoing annual leave is unproductive for both the employee and their employer for a number of reasons and the last thing anyone wants or needs is to become stressed and burned out. 

While it is up to the employee as to whether and when they take their annual leave, employers can help to minimise the potential for burnout by encouraging them to take their holiday. This could be done in a number of ways including a quarterly review of how much holiday is remaining for each staff member or even introducing a policy to ensure that staff are taking a minimum amount of leave in a certain time scale (say they get 20 days per year plus bank holidays – tell your staff that they must take 5 days for every 3 months). 

Another thing to consider is allowing staff to carryover unused holiday from the previous holiday year to ensure that, if they’ve had a particularly busy period and have just had no time to spare, they are not losing out on that valuable time off.

Holiday entitlement should be communicated to employees as soon as they join the company and all information relating to annual leave should be readily available in their employment contract and staff handbook.

The amount of holiday that an individual is entitled to will depend on the hours they work. To learn more, head to our holiday calculator.

Written by Clarisse Levitan

Lead First Line Customer Support Agent - Staff Squared

Clarisse works as the Lead of our Customer Support Team to provide all of our customers with the very best care and guidance when using their HR software.

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