A recent survey by Glassdoor finds that very few employees in the UK are using all of their paid leave entitlement, while 40 percent of them are using less than half of it, Personnel Today’s Adam McCulloch observes:
The average figure of holiday taken by UK employees was 62%, while 91-100% of holiday entitlement was taken by 43%, the study found. A remarkable 13% reported only taking 20% of their allowance. The online survey carried out in April garnered responses from 2,000 full and part-time employed adults and also gauged the amount of work people said they did while taking time off. The results revealed that 23% of those on holiday regularly checked emails and 15% continued doing some work out of fear of being behind on their return and of missing targets.
Young workers were the least likely to take their full holiday entitlement, with only 35% of 18-24 year olds and 40% of 25-34 year olds taking all of their allowance. Half of employees (50%) said they could completely relax on holiday and that there was no expectation from their employers that they should be contactable. However, 20% reported that they were expected to be reachable and available to carry out some work if needed.
The underuse of vacation time may be a factor in the high levels of overwork and overload UK employees report, which cause stress and contribute to mental and physical health problems. Nearly one third of workers said in the latest edition of the CIPD’s UK Working Lives report that they suffered to some extent from “unmanageable” workloads, while 22 percent said they often felt “under excessive pressure,” another 22 percent said they felt “exhausted,” and 11 percent reported feeling “miserable” at work.
Stress and mental health issues in the UK workforce have been showing up in surveys for a few years: A 2016 survey, for example, found that 75 percent of UK workers had felt stressed at work over the prior year but most felt uncomfortable talking about depression or stress in the workplace. A study last year of fit notes written by general practitioners for employees on sick leave showed that nearly a third of those notes written between December 2014 and March 2017 were issued for mental and behavioral disorders.
Underuse of paid leave benefits is a perennial issue in the US as well, with a survey last year finding that Americans are getting more days off from their employers, but frequently failing to use them all. In previous surveys, US workers have indicated that they feel discouraged by their employers from taking time off: Even if the organization’s policy entitles them to a certain amount of vacation time, the messaging they get from their managers and coworkers makes them fear that they will be punished, look bad to their colleagues, or fall behind if they actually use it.
Of course, employees who never take vacations are a liability, not an asset, as their stress levels would be lower, their health better, and their morale and productivity higher if they did take their entitled breaks. To solve this problem, some organizations have experimented with making vacations mandatory and even requiring employees to maintain a regular vacation schedule. If that’s too extreme, organizations can also offer employees incentives like travel stipends that they can only use if they take their vacation. It can also be helpful to help employees plan for vacations by giving them a framework for handing off their work before they leave and catching up when they get back Perhaps the most important things managers can do, however, are to refrain from imposing work expectations on employees while they are on leave and set a good example by taking vacations themselves.