A third of UK office workers are not able to take any annual leave between now and Christmas, as their requests are denied due to major staff shortages, a survey shows.

For one in three people, their work/life balance will deplete further between now and Christmas, as they are set to have their annual leave continually rejected due to a lack of resources. 

Despite annual leave being essential for rest, relaxation and re-energisation, many of the nation’s workers are forced to keep burning the candle at both ends to combat understaffing.

This follows findings that 21 percent of office workers regularly or always have their time-off requests denied due to staff absences, whilst a further 16 percent repeatedly have their annual leave requests rejected to accommodate excessive workloads.

The trend is set to continue throughout the rest of the year – particularly given that many workers with children will be knuckling down to make up for any drops in productivity seen over the summer holidays, and again ahead of the October half term. 


It is a nationwide issue

This is a nationwide issue, as a report named labour shortages as the ‘most urgent problem’ facing the UK economy, while over a third of UK businesses are regularly forced to turn down work due to staff shortages, which are projected to continue for the next two years.

And even for those employees who are able to get time away from the office, their time off will not be without issue, as the survey reveals a quarter (25%) of workers are unable to avoid working whilst on holiday, as they are contacted to help deal with absences or work queries.

This is concerning given that many workers will already have to juggle preparations for the stressful festive season alongside office hours and overtime over the next three months.


A lack of annual leave: what will the consequences be?

The lack of annual leave has further-reaching consequences than rest and relaxation, however, with 16 percent using their allowance to cover medical appointments.

There are also mental health implications associated with not taking time off, as the survey 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.

Will Foster, Professor of Leadership at Keele University, urges employers to promote time off before Christmas, saying: “It’s essential that if the ‘espoused’ values of the organisation include employee wellbeing and restorative breaks, then leaders need to prioritise that. 

“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, regardless of the time of year and understaffing issues.”

Anni Townend, Leadership Partner, adds to the study: “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, particularly throughout the festive period.

“The danger of not taking annual leave 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.”






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.