According to a recent survey, one in 10 UK workers did not take all of their annual leave last year because they felt pressured by management.
Furthermore, 62 percent of UK workers did not take all of their annual leave in 2022.
Though it might be difficult for some people to imagine not taking all their accrued holiday days, this survey paints a rather bleak picture for the majority of workers in the UK and suggests there are deeper issues that employers have a duty to address.
What if annual leave cannot be accommodated?
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula says: “Although employers can decline annual leave requests for business reasons, and provided the correct notice is given, they cannot prevent employees from taking their statutory leave at all.
“If an annual leave request cannot be accommodated, employers should make sure that the reasons for refusal are reasonable and not discriminatory, and that there is ample opportunity for staff to take the time off later in the year.
“Although most employers will likely encounter issues at some point when approving holiday requests, i.e. if multiple employees are looking to take the same days off, it’s important to also pay attention to who’s not taking their holidays.
“You need to consider why people aren’t making use of their annual leave. Is your workplace culture one where staff feel unable to fully disconnect and take a break? If so, you may want to review responsibilities, workloads, and expectations to ensure employees feel able to take the time away that they are entitled to.”
Gavin Scarr Hall, Director of Health & Safety at Peninsula, says :
“Data from the Health & Safety Executive shows that almost 1 million people suffered with work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2021/22, which equates to 18 million working days lost. And, sadly, there’s no sign of this slowing any time soon. So when employees are opting to work instead of taking their annual leave entitlement, this is a sign that there could be trouble ahead. All employers have a duty of care to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of their staff, so putting measures in place to prevent work from having an impact on a person’s physical or mental health is both a necessity and a legal obligation.”
Kate Palmer continues:
“Annual leave is key to maintaining a healthy workforce. When employees don’t have sufficient time to recharge, they’re more likely to suffer from burnout. This, in turn, has a negative impact for businesses with increased absence levels and reduced productivity. Employers should encourage employees to ensure they take all their annual leave entitlement or consider enforcing holidays (giving the correct notice of double the amount of leave to be taken) if it’s clear the individual has not taken time off in a while.
“Similarly, it’s useful for employers to ensure that periods of annual leave are genuinely a “contact-free” period, so employees do not feel under pressure to check emails or reply to requests whilst they are off.
“Where employees may find it difficult to take time off for either work-related or personal reasons, it may be useful to have policies giving the option to carry over unused annual leave into the next year’s allocation. Having a policy on buying and selling annual leave can help employees maintain more control over their holidays. However, this should never be used as an excuse for employees not to take their full leave entitlement. Instead, it would serve as a safety net ensuring people do not lose their allocation in cases where there is no other option.”
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 the 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.