A recent ACAS report based on Glassdoor research has found UK employees only use 77% of their annual leave each year – losing roughly 6.5 days leisure per year too. Almost half (44%) also say they work whilst on annual leave too.
It’s a surprising result, but with the rise of flexible working, some employers can be sceptical and may expect staff to slack off, but it seems the real issue in the UK workforce isn’t absenteeism – it’s ‘presenteeism’.
With such easy access to emails and conversations with colleagues through services like Slack, it’s no wonder our workers are ‘always on’. While some employers may see this as an advantage, it’s not necessarily the case.
Recent findings show Brits are doing an average of 8.4 hours of overtime per week – an extra 68 days per year, and 65% aren’t getting additional pay for it. While that may seem like more hours of extra work being done, Parkinson’s Law suggests work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. So, if your company has a culture where everyone works 9am-7pm, they probably do the same amount of work as they would if they could only work 9am-5pm, just over a longer time frame.
Initiatives are being taken already in some companies and countries to try and minimise work outside of hours, or encourage employees to take more leave. In France, they now have the right to disconnect, where workers have a legal right to avoid emails outside working hours, but it’s likely too early to say on if that’s working. Likewise, companies such as Virgin, Netflix and LinkedIn offer unlimited annual leave, but trials have shown this kind of benefit actually can result in fewer people taking annual leave.
Senior leadership at companies need to lead by example and create a culture shift that encourages people to switch off and take their well-earned breaks. So, what are some steps they can take to do this?
Perhaps the most obvious answer here is to switch off and stop responding when the work day is over, and make a point to not respond to emails on weekends or on holiday unless it’s urgent. Be sure to try and leave work on time consistently too. If junior or mid-level employees see senior people responding out of hours or on weekends, it sets a precedence that they should do that too. If an email hits your inbox late, most people can wait for your reply until the morning.
Communicate to your team
While leading by example and taking your necessary breaks can help your team shift the always-on culture, they need to know verbatim that it’s okay to switch off too. If you notice a staff member is constantly working late, be sure to tell them directly that they aren’t expected to stay behind so late, and won’t be penalised if they don’t. Make sure to regularly ask how they’re doing too, as it may be that they’re overworked and need to share their workload, but aren’t sure how to ask.
Take a break in the day
Finally, if you can, try and get away from your desk during the day. While you may feel like you’ll get more done if you quickly scoff down lunch at your desk, it can actually make you less productive. Even taking a 20-minute break outside can help refresh your energy, and allow you to come back to work fresh for the afternoon.
Embrace flexible work
Our research with IDC found that there is a positive correlation between employee happiness and the adoption of flexible working practices. With modern technology and proper guidance on expectations in place, there’s no reason not to try encouraging flexible work in your company. Putting that trust in your employees will also help them feel more motivated to do a good job for the company.
While a good work ethic is important for any employee, it shouldn’t mean people feel like they can’t take their full annual leave, or switch off when they get home from work. A burned-out employee cannot be expected to perform at their peak, and in leading by example and allowing your people to feel empowered with their work hours, you can help shift your company culture for the better – and enjoy your own holiday too!
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