Australia’s Fair Work Commission recently introduced new clauses that allow some employees to cash in their holidays. In effect, this means that around 2 million Aussie workers can now trade in their days off for dollars, as long as they retain at least four weeks of leave annually.
As the standard leave allowance in Australia is just four weeks anyway, those who stand to benefit are actually the ones who need a holiday most, i.e. the people who’ve hoarded their leave allowance and have carried over days from the previous year. But this time-for-cash deal may not be such a good thing, lucrative as it may sound.
As it stands, 11% of Australian workers do not take any annual leave, with many reporting to take less time off or to re-arrange travel plans due to work commitments. Up to two-thirds of people admit to experiencing FOTAL (Fear of Taking Annual Leave).
This tendency is more common globally than you might realise. In the UK, where the average annual leave allowance is about 28 days, one-third of workers admit that they do not take their full leave allowances. Similarly, in Germany 1 in 3 workers don’t use up their annual leave entitlements. In 2015 alone, 55% of US workers didn’t take all their vacation, leaving 658 million vacation days unused.
So what’s the deal? Why aren’t people utilising time off that they’re perfectly entitled to take? The reasons, it turns out, are almost universal. Across multiple surveys in several countries, the cause boiled down to one word: anxiety.
Many people feel under pressure to meet deadlines, or that they have a constant workload that they can’t abandon for any extended period of time. Similarly, many others feared falling behind, or that they would leave their colleagues to have to pick up the slack. Alarmingly, many others felt that not being constantly at work might harm their pay rise or promotion prospects.
This is a serious problem in the labour market, and it’s clearly a global one. If employees fear taking time off for reasons of stress and anxiety, then there is an obvious shortfall that is not being met by employers. Addressing this stands to benefit employers just as much as employees. A generous system of annual leave encourages a better company culture, improves creativity and productivity, and it even good for the company’s bottom line.
Workaholic tendencies have also been linked to a number of psychiatric disorders, so it’s important that companies are mindful of the strain they are exerting on their employees and think about how they can alleviate some pressures that might exacerbate their anxieties. So what can employers and employees do to ensure a healthy approach to annual leave?
Be relaxed about leave allowances, but keep an eye on when people take time off and make sure they take their full allocation. Provide supports where you can to take the pressure off employees, and don’t make any remarks along the lines of how “you’ll be lost” without them. When they do go on leave, do not contact them! No emails, no Slack messages, and absolutely no phone calls. Even if you get on well, they don’t want to hear from you. Don’t have people dreading the day they finally have to return to the desk, or worse, working through their holidays.
Put your foot down, and focus on looking after yourself. Realise that the company will stay running without you, and ask your managers or your colleagues for help with any open projects while you’re away. Create a detailed handover that your proxy can refer to. Remember that in order to be at your best you need to be well-rested, so you’re doing them a favour by taking a holiday. Then waltz out of the office, turn off your phone and go have your day in the sun.