Give ‘em a break - encouraging employees to take time off

As a business owner you will probably have a good understanding of employee holiday entitlement and the impact of planned absence on your business. Whilst most business owners see the benefit of employees taking time off, you’ll be forgiven if you occasionally having mixed-feelings about the issue.

Simon Dalley: BrightHR Brand Marketing Manager

With 28 days’ statutory holiday entitlement (20 days plus the 8 bank holidays), the UK is 74th in the international holiday entitlement rankings. Germany offers 29 days, whilst France offers 36 days. At BrightHR, we offer 33 days holiday as our minimum entitlement.

However, research shows it’s likely that not every member of your team takes the time off they’re entitled to.

As a company that develops absence management software, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the way employees use their holiday entitlement. Glassdoor research shows that as low as 30% of staff take their full allowance each year; and whilst some business owners may perceive the benefits of getting more days out of their employees, there could be a long-term detrimental impact.

According to the Oxford Economics if U.S. employees would take just one additional day of earned leave each year, the result would mean $73 billion in output for the U.S. economy. Although similar research has yet to be conducted, it’s likely that there would be a proportionate benefit to the UK economy as well.

Regulation 15 of the Working Time Regulations puts the onus on employers to ensure employees don’t become unwell due to annual leave not being taken. When recognising that employees don’t always take time off, business owners also need to consider how their employees feel about taking time off. Ask yourself: “does our absence management processes make our employees feel comfortable about requesting the time off?”

There are a number of reasons why people don’t take all their holiday allowance and there has been a lot of research into the psychology of requesting time off from an employer.

Reasons employees might not be taking time off:

  • Heavy workload - they feel that they can’t take time off due to the amount of work they have on
  • Negative perception of holidays - in some businesses there is a perception that holidays are a bad thing and employees should take as few holidays as possible
  • Schedule conflicts - particularly at busy times of the year, employees may feel they’re not able to take time off
  • Lack of notice - some businesses require a month’s notice for absence requests, which isn’t always possible for employees
  • Employee bravado - some employees don’t feel that they need to take time off and often never take their full holiday allowance, wearing it like a badge of honour
  • Holiday roll over - some firms allow untaken holidays to be carried over into the following year
  • Employee capacity - especially with smaller companies, staff may feel less inclined to take their full holiday entitlement as it could detrimentally impact on the running of the business.

Of course as an employer you do have a right to refuse the leave of an employee. There should be a good reason for this and wherever possible the employer should be able to demonstrate why the decision they made was appropriate. It’s important to remember if you need to refuse an absence request, you should be working with your employees to help them find a mutually suitable date and ensure they get their full allowance by the end of the holiday year.

In a highly-publicised HR policy change, Richard Branson introduced an unlimited holiday system at Virgin. His employees can take off as much holiday as they want. However, some would say this only highlights working culture issues in the UK, as most employees in businesses with unlimited holidays end up taking fewer holidays than the statutory allowance, often for fear that they’d be discriminated against in favour of those employees who took less.

But isn’t it good for the employer if the employee is at work?

Years ago this used to be a common perception; less so now. And Parkinson’s Law states: work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Whilst productivity is key, Britain lags behind most of the other major industrialised nations in the productivity league. According to the Office for National Statistics, on an output per worker basis, UK productivity was 19% below the average for the rest of the G7 in 2014. Spending more time in the workplace isn’t necessarily the answer to this problem. In fact, when taking in this conjunction with Parkinson’s Law, encouraging people to take more time off could actually see our national productivity increase.

Reasons employees should take time off:

Burnout - it’s well known that people who work continuously will eventually burn out, to the point where their ability to do their job becomes questionable

Increased sickness - when people don’t take time off work, burn out can develop into illness. There’s also evidence that people who are fearful about requesting time off may take sick leave rather than requesting to use their holiday entitlement

Staff churn - if there is a cultural problem about using holiday allowance, it’s very likely that your business will begin to experience increased staff churn

How to encourage employees to take more time off

The first thing you need to do is take some time to audit the culture of your business. Take your time and be thorough. Culture is something that can be changed with consistent top-down leadership, however, it’s not something that you’re going to change overnight.

It’s important to understand if your employees feel comfortable about taking holidays. If you find that people don’t feel comfortable in taking holidays it’s then time to work out what the reasons for that is. There will be a number of reasons but you should be able to categorise these to give you an indication where you should focus your efforts.

In most businesses, communication which encourages employees to take time off is the key.

Give ‘em a break

When your employees take a break, most of the time they’ll return to work with a renewed energy and focus on their job, and you could see productivity increase. Also, relaxed team members are less stressed out, meaning they’re less likely to take sick time, and you’re more likely to keep hold of them for longer, reducing the costs of employee churn.

Getting out of the workplace is a great way for your employees to experience different things and to think about the world in a different way. By bringing these experiences back to their job they may be able to help the business innovate further.

Best of all, happy employees mean happy customers and make businesses an enjoyable place to work.

Make requesting time off easier for your employees and remove hassle of managing absence with BrightHR.