Breaks, boundaries and burnouts: The importance of annual leave
Noelle Murphy, Senior HR Practice Editor, XpertHR, spoke to Business Leader about the importance of taking a break from the office and the importance of annual leave.
In a normal year, most employees look forward to taking time off work to enjoy a well-deserved break. However, with the swift onset of the pandemic last year, many employees were reluctant to use their holiday allowance when travel was restricted, opting to save it for a time they could make the most of their time off. While understandable, this has led to increasing concerns of staff burnout amongst employers, and as the nation impatiently waits for foreign travel restrictions to lift, holiday allowance continues to be deferred.
Alongside this, a change in working patterns and the rise of e-presenteeism brought on by restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic has led to increased risk of burnout. Without the commute to work or social interactions in the office, work has become something of a distraction during lockdowns. This has created a growing culture of overworking, where the line between work and home is blurred.
According to a recent whitepaper from Cendex, over the past year, many employees have worked unpaid overtime, with 31% of organisations reporting employees had been putting in between one to two extra unpaid hours each day.
Such overworking only adds to the strain the multiple lockdowns have created on employees’ mental wellbeing. However, despite this stress, many employees may still be hesitant to take time off. Job insecurity, increased workloads, and concerns about how absence may affect promotions means there is an increased reluctance to using holiday allowance, resulting in both employees and employers feeling the impact.
Importance of annual leave in preventing burnout
Ensuring staff take their full leave entitlement creates a more productive workplace, reduces absenteeism rates, and helps to retain staff, creating a positive environment for all. Taking annual leave provides a chance to replenish energy levels and return to work with a fresh perspective. Even the preparation and planning for a holiday can help to alleviate stress and avoid burnout. Employees who take regular breaks from work are less prone to mistakes and to long-term stress because they will have more opportunities to rest, essentially taking less sickness absence leave.
In fact, according to Gallup, employees suffering from burnout are 63% more likely to take sick leave and more than twice as likely to actively look for another job. So, it’s essential that employers encourage their employees to take regular breaks and create a culture where it’s encouraged and normal to take time to themselves, no matter their workload. Annual leave is not merely a work perk but rather a health and safety requirement for employees.
How to encourage uptake on annual leave
Staff look forward to taking leave and consider it to be an important part of their benefits package but are shying away as uncertainty around travel and fear of inadequate cover whilst away lingers. Employers need to do more to encourage their staff to plan and take their full holiday entitlement during the year and can do this through effective management, consistent communication and creating a culture that encourages and facilitates taking annual leave.
Encouraging employees to plan and take annual leave can be done through reminding team members of the importance and benefits of time away from the workplace. Holiday policies should be communicated to all employees when joining an organisation and should be readily available in employees’ handbook. Sending periodical email reminders of how much remaining annual leave they have or informing them during general individual and team meetings are also positive ways to make sure employees are taking the necessary time off. Irrespective of how well the organisation is doing or the economic climate, it’s important that employees are still encouraged to plan and take the full allowance.
In a virtual world of work, it can be more difficult to switch off and take breaks, leading to a serious risk of burnout. This will be detrimental to the employee themselves but the ripple effect among colleagues and the rest of the organisation can be just as significant. Annual leave entitlement is not just a benefit but a necessity for both the health of the employee and the health of the organisation.