Most full-time UK employees have around 25 days holiday a year, so why, according to a 2017 British Airways survey of over 2,000 people, are two-thirds of employees not using up their full allocation?
On average, four days are lost to each person each year and looking deeper in to the stats, 69% don’t take a two-week holiday and perhaps the most telling number, 16% said they would feel guilty for leaving the office.
A similar study undertaken by the Society for Human Resource Management in the US suggests that 40% of Americans leave unpaid holiday time on the table. Their reasons are the same as ours – they’re afraid of being replaced, they think being out of the office is frowned on by the people still there and they worry that work piles up when they’re away.
So we say here and now…
No More Rest-Shaming
There is a misguided perception that success at work is determined by how many hours we work rather that what we achieve and it fuels the belief that those who take time off somehow aren’t committed or they’re unambitious.
Worse, there are plenty of people who wear workplace stress as a badge of honour and they will even brag to co-workers how little they sleep, they’ll send emails cc-ing everyone at 11.30pm and they will rest-shame those who don’t work as hard as they do. But of course it’s not about working hard, it’s about working smart.
This is a plague on businesses large and small.
Moya Sarner writing in The Guardian last year said ‘This is deranged behaviour. It is the equivalent of saying: Don’t worry about paying me for those four days of work – it’s sweet of you to offer, but really, you can have those for free.’
While entitlement to leave is set out in job contracts, we pay more attention to the psychological contract. ‘[It] consists of the unwritten rules that we create for ourselves as employees and employers – what we deem to be reasonable in our workplace. We all have those sets of rules in our head, which we may be more or less aware of.’
What none of us can do is to employ what are known as ‘thinking errors.’ We’ve all fallen into the loop whereby we think that the office will crash and die without us but in reality, it really won’t.
There’s also the flipside of that particular coin where we get pre-emptively angry when we’re the ones left in the office and we can’t get hold of anyone, can’t move projects forward, can’t get the answers we need and we’re juggling other people’s work to keep things above water while our colleagues are drinking cocktails on the beach somewhere exotic.
They’re entitled to do it just like you are.
Do they feel guilty about it? Unlikely. Nor should you.
Why Should We Take Holiday?
For one thing, holidays are great! Two weeks in the sun without a care in the world will return you refreshed and ready. Any time out of the office is beneficial for everyone involved because – and this will come as no surprise – a happier workforce is both more productive and more profitable.
Time away is also crucial for avoiding burnout, mental exhaustion and work-related stress and it dramatically reduces the need for sick days – a decent enough reason for your line manager to approve your holiday request!
If you do have ‘holiday guilt’, here’s a handy way to reframe your thinking…
Your Guilty Self – I feel guilty about taking all my holiday because my boss might think I’m not pulling my weight and I must keep working to prove my worth to the business.
Tell Yourself This – My contract says I have these days and I’m not violating the terms by taking time off. If I don’t take it, I’m short-changing myself and moreover, I deserve it!
Your Guilty Self – I’m worried that if I go away, I won’t get the project completed and when I come back there will be an overwhelming amount of work to do and three billion emails to reply to.
Tell Yourself This – Holidays are healthy and when I get back I will feel refreshed and energised and I’ll be able to do a much better job than before I went. Worst-case scenario, I can check my emails and be available for any emergencies. Plus, I trust my team to get the job done.
Your Guilty Self – I worry I’ll get penalised for being away and I’ll miss out on the promotion I really want.
Tell Yourself This – This fear is irrational and not based in any reality. My manager signed off the holiday, I gave my team and clients plenty of advanced warning, I’ve delayed important tasks I’m needed for and I’ve ensured everything is taken care of.
Your Guilty Self – If I take this time off, my boss might think I’m not committed to the company and fire me.
Tell Yourself This – First, you can’t be fired for taking holiday which has been signed off and if you are, you’ll undoubtedly win a constructive dismissal suit. Second, your boss knows how committed you are and what a valuable company asset you have become.
In addition, you wouldn’t want to work for a company where that particular threat is hanging over your head.
Jonathan Richards, CEO of BreatheHR says ‘Companies need to create a positive and accepting culture around taking annual leave and make it a part of the company culture’s connective tissue that links agility, engagement, productivity, purpose and results.’
We’re all human. We’re not robots with an endless supply of energy and as such, we need to replenish the energy we expend so think twice before you brag to the new guy in marketing you haven’t taken holiday for two years because you’re so busy…
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