Many companies across the UK will have experienced the pre-Christmas rush for staff to book time off before the holidays. This can lead to under-resourced workplaces and disgruntled employees, who are either unable to use their holiday allowance or left with an increased workload as a result of multiple absences.

Encouraging staff to take time off throughout the year, and utilise the full extent of their allowance, can be as beneficial to employers as employees. Not only does it avoid the last-minute rush come the festive season, it also has a significant effect on employee stress levels, general health, productivity, and retention.

Continuing Brexit worries, job insecurity, concerns over how absence might affect promotions, managers who openly frown upon holiday requests, unmanageable workloads, and guilt about leaving colleagues in the lurch mean there is an increased reticence to utilise holiday allowance and both workers and businesses are suffering as a result.

A recent study by Danish ferry company DFDS investigated the effect that work and everyday stresses can have on mental health in the UK. The figures show that almost 3/4 of Brits (74%) experience stress on a day-to-day basis, with those aged 25-34 suffering the highest stress levels, at 86%.

75% of respondents said they wished they could take more time off work to go on holiday, with that number rising to one in nine (90%) among 25-34 year-olds. Work and life stress was cited as the main reason for booking a holiday among 42% of all recipients, and 54% of 16-24 year-olds. Wellbeing was also a major reason among the younger generations, with 70% of 25-34 year-olds and 63% of 16-24 year-olds saying they book a holiday to benefit their wellbeing.

The study revealed that 79% of Brits returned from holiday feeling significantly less stressed yet, despite this, many people are not booking time off for holidays – 30% of women and 27% of men have not booked a holiday in the past 12 months.

Even those who are booking holidays are usually not utilising their full allowance. A survey by recruitment website Glassdoor found that 40% of respondents took a maximum of half their annual leave, with the average employee taking just 62% of their allowance. Just 35% of 18-24 year-olds and 40% of 25-34 year-olds take between 91-100% of their full entitlement.

Of those who did manage to take a holiday, 23% regularly checked emails, and 15% continued working through fear of getting behind and the consequences of not hitting their targets.


The benefits of taking annual leave

Employers need to do more to encourage employees to take their full holiday entitlement during the year. Failing to do so can lead to increased stress levels and burnout, resulting not just in health issues for workers, but financial losses for employers.

A survey from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace revealed that high stress and lack of physical activity are causing industries to lose up to 27 days of productive time per employee each year. This has huge financial implications, with the UK missing out on around £77.5 billion a year in loss of productivity due to mental and physical ill-health, often caused by stress.

A rested and relaxed workplace can lead to a more motivated and productive workforce and can reduce the amount of sick leave taken, which is often a direct result of stress or exhaustion. A less-stressed workplace can also avoid fatigue-related accidents, whether they be physical injuries or administrative mistakes that could potentially cost client relationships. In addition, a more positive, healthy working environment is a strong tool for staff retention.


What your company can do

There are a number of ways your business can encourage employees to make full use of their holiday entitlement.

Make sure your holiday policy is clear and that booking time off is simple. Employees need to know how much holiday they are entitled to and have easy access to a system where they can request days off. Good absence management software is not only important in making it easy for staff to navigate the process, but allows employers to keep track of which employees are taking their full entitlement. This creates the opportunity to speak with workers individually to discuss any barriers and potential ways to work around the issues.

Sending out regular reminders as part of company newsletters, individual emails confirming employees’ remaining entitlement, or mentioning annual leave during regular meetings can motivate employees to book time off throughout the year and create a culture where discussion around holidays is open and positive.

Encouraging employees to share recommendations for time off – from long-haul trips to city breaks, family days out to local cultural events – can help to develop a healthier workplace attitude towards annual leave. Companies can also negotiate discounts on travel, accommodation, places of interest, events, and other activities in order to support this.

Communicating the importance of annual leave to managers at all levels helps to avoid staff feeling that their requests will be frowned upon or publicly berated. The way in which managers respond to holiday requests, their awareness of employee workloads, any barriers they put in place in terms of timings, and their own willingness to take annual leave can have a strong impact on how comfortable their team feel in utilising their allowance.

Similarly, managers discussing work-life balance with their employees, ensuring they handover tasks before they take holiday, and making it clear they are not expected to check work emails while away can ensure they fully step back from the stresses of the workplace during their annual leave.

It is important to reframe the way we look at annual leave and acknowledge it not as an employee perk, but a benefit to the business owner. Ensuring your employees take their full entitlement can create a more productive workplace, minimise absenteeism due to stress-related ill-health, and help to retain staff, making your business more profitable and your company more appealing to potential employees in the future.