One in five of the nation’s office workers are being prevented from taking time off work due to staff shortages and reduced resources meaning their requests are denied, a new survey reveals.

The Annual Leave Allowances survey, from Just Eat for Business, reveals how office workers utilise annual leave allowance, how their employer promotes holiday entitlement, and how time off impacts work-life balance amidst a move towards flexible working.

Despite annual leave being key to employees taking time off work to rest and re-energise, many of the nation’s workforce are unable to do so due to staff shortages and demands.

This follows a recent report that found labour shortages were the ‘most urgent problem’ facing the UK economy right now, with over 1.3 million job vacancies and 900,000 fewer workers today than the Bank of England expected prior to the pandemic.


Staff shortages

Staff shortages came out as the biggest disrupter of annual leave requests, while a further 26% of office workers can’t enjoy time off once they are granted it, as they’re contacted by employers to help cover unplanned staff absences and excessive workloads.

Furthermore, the majority (60%) of employees feel their employer explicitly discourages them from taking time off work, while 1 in 10 don’t feel able to ask for mental health leave.


Lack of time off

This lack of time off is concerning, given that the survey also found 44 percent of employees report feeling burnt out at work, while a third find trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance to be the most stressful aspect of work.

This is despite many organisations advertising flexible working arrangements and generous leave entitlements on job adverts – only then to instil unhealthy working habits in staff.

For Will Foster, Professor of Leadership at Keele University, this isn’t acceptable, as he says: “It’s essential that if the ‘espoused’ values of the organisation include employee wellbeing and restorative breaks, then leaders need to allow that to happen and do more than pay lip service. Management must do the hard work of ensuring the structures, roles, responsibilities and staffing levels align so employees can take a ‘true rest’ when needed.”


Regular breaks should be encouraged 

For Anni Townend, Leadership Partner, organisations should at least look to encourage regular breaks during the working week even if extended annual leave isn’t manageable. She says: “Annual leave is an important part of a much bigger picture of looking after our life-work balance and of creating a positive work culture.

“Increasingly people are realising that there’s huge value in taking micro-breaks during the day as part of managing employee wellbeing, as well as longer macro-breaks like annual leave. The danger of not doing so is that we lose our ability to switch-off and to disconnect from work. This can impact our sleep patterns and our ability to concentrate, as well as cause extreme mood swings and a weakened immune system.”

Rosie Hyam, People Partner at Just Eat, also weighed in on the survey findings: “Given the emphasis on employee well being and work-life balance over the last few years, it’s essential that employers are receptive to flexible working arrangements, and that they allow employees to take time away from work when needed.

“And it doesn’t have to be a big break – organisations may want to carve out some time to ensure that employees can take a break and socialise with colleagues during the working week. This can be done through in-office lunches, socials or team bonding activities.”






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.