Are your employees taking their annual leave?

Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager

Taking time off from work over the holiday season seems standard, right? Traditionally, many employees will enjoy annual leave time during the Christmas and New Year period, to recharge their batteries and spend time with family and friends. 

However, many employees are deciding against taking time off for a vacation, choosing to work through the holiday season instead. What are some of the reasons your staff members aren’t taking their annual leave?

It could be one of several reasons. Some people might feel guilty about adding to the workload of others, or think they’re too busy to take time off. In this case, winding down might not even seem worth it, due to the amount of work they know they’ll come back to. Others may be worried they might not have a job to come back to if they take a break.

Whatever the reason, it’s critical that your employees understand the importance of taking proper time off, for positive work-life balance and to avoid burning out. As an employer, by promoting the benefits of proper vacations, you’ll also be building a better work culture, with happier staff and lower staff turnover rates.

Read on for more insight into the reasons some staff members might be reluctant to take time off over the holiday season and how you can address this.

Thinking that No One Else Can Do Their Job

One of the biggest reasons people don’t take annual leave is that they think no one else can do their job for them while they’re away. They worry that without their physical presence, the organisation will grind to a halt – which unfortunately, may be true.

 If this is the case, it could be a sign that there are employees in your organisation with far too much on their plate. If a staff member feels that they can’t take a vacation because their immediate workload doesn’t allow it, you need to address this issue. Individuals with perfectionistic tendencies, in particular, can often be fearful of taking annual leave, being uncomfortable with the idea of other people taking over their work and not having the same standards, or creating more issues.

For these workers, there may also be a concern about switching off from technology during leave time. With advancements in digital technology, grey areas have sprung up around appropriate levels of communication for staff who are on leave. While in the past, employees were instantly disconnected from the work environment as soon as they left the office or job site, these days employers can easily get in touch with staff by phone, email, text message or video call.

Expecting employees to communicate during the holiday period disrupts their personal time and stops them from properly switching off and recharging. As an employer, don’t encourage or guilt staff into answering calls or replying to emails over their break. Managers need to understand the importance of switching off after hours and be educated on the risks of technology burnout for their staff.

Feeling Guilty About Putting Extra Strain on Co-Workers 

Some staff members might also feel guilty about taking time off, worrying that by doing so they’ll be putting strain on their colleagues and adding extra duties or responsibilities to their workload.

Employers should promote a collaborative work culture, emphasising a workplace environment of trust, knowledge sharing and non-siloed work units. When teams work in collaboration, they support one another to accomplish team and organisational goals.

No staff member should need to feel stressed or guilty about taking time off in this collaborative and positive work environment. They should also be able to trust their team mates to pitch in and carry the work load in their absence.

Dreading the Amount of Work That Will Pile Up

Have you ever taken a holiday, only to return to an overflowing inbox with every email marked urgent and requiring immediate attention? Not to mention the amount of calendar invites and meetings you’re expected to participate in on your first week back.

Most of us have been in this situation at some point, returning from vacation to a giant pile up of work greeting you at your desk. Unfortunately, this can sometimes make employees feel like taking time off wasn’t even worth it, as stressed feelings soon replace any relaxation gained from their holiday.

As psychologist Sarah-Jayne Whiston explains, fear of taking annual leave is “a common occurrence in workplaces. It's that sinking feeling if you leave your work, the emails and things to do list will keep mounting, so taking time off will mean you have to come back to even more work," says Sarah-Jayne.

To address this, employers and managers can make sure teams are properly covered during annual leave periods, and allow staff adequate desk time when they return to work after a break, to catch up on their emails and in trays.

Worrying They Won’t Have a Job to Come Back to

Sadly, many workers may be afraid that they might not have a job to come back to if they take time off. With Australia’s unemployment rate rising to 5.7 per cent just before the new year, the holiday period can be a time of uncertainty for many people in terms of job security.

In Australia, annual leave is a legal requirement, however some employees still worry about being replaced during their break. Contractors in the construction industry, for example, might fear that the job will simply go to someone else if they make themselves unavailable.

As an employer, you can be mindful of the stresses that the holiday season can bring and reassure individuals of the security of their jobs in the new year. That way, staff members can relax and enjoy their Christmas break, returning to work with fresh energy and motivation.


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