Annual Leave Allowances: The Survey | Just Eat for Business
Just Eat for Business reveals employers and employees’ habits when it comes to taking and granting time off work.
The Annual Leave Allowances Survey
With the summer months upon us and international travel slowly resuming, it’s peak time for employees to jet off on holiday or book some time off work to relax with loved ones at home. But with work-life balance being a key focal point for businesses over the last two years, how easy is it to request annual leave now that we’re returning to the office, and what are employees likely to use this time off for?
As we’re increasingly prone to burnout and overworking, we also wanted to ask office workers about their holiday habits to see whether they’re taking their entitled annual leave allowance, and what the likely repercussions of not taking breaks from work may be.
Just Eat for Business’ Annual Leave Allowances surveyed 200 UK employees to identify how frequently they’re taking restorative time from work, and what issues they experience while trying to schedule annual leave.
Annual Leave Entitlement
The statutory annual leave requirement means that almost all UK employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks (or 28 working days) paid holiday per year. However, organisations have differing policies when it comes to how employees can utilise flexibility with this allowance - with the survey showing that the majority are able to roll over unused days to some extent (51%), whilst many are held to a ‘use it or lose it’ approach (36%).
As for how people use their time off, the survey shows that the most common reason for annual leave is to allow employees to take holidays or trips away (65%), whilst a third take time off to celebrate birthdays, special occasions and other family events. Meanwhile, almost a quarter of office workers are taking time off just to use up their allowance, in line with the ‘use it or lose it’ policy.
Despite flexible working becoming more commonplace, businesses still vary when it comes to sick leave and statutory pay, and not all employees are granted generous allowances. This is evident among the 16% of respondents who say they use their annual leave to cover medical appointments or illness, while a further 6% use their allowance for mental health reasons, such as stress or burnout.
Whether taking annual leave for macro-breaks - such as extended periods of time to cover a holiday abroad - or mico-breaks like the odd day off for mental health reasons, it’s essential that employees take time away from the office in order to restore and reset.
Anni Townend, Leadership Partner and host of the Leaders in Conversation podcast, speaks on the importance of a healthy work-life balance when it comes to taking annual leave. She says: “Whether taken as a long break or in short breaks, annual leave is an important part of a much bigger picture of looking after our life-work balance, of creating cultures of care and connection in which people are helped to be their best and do their best work, are inclusive of difference and encourage collaboration.
“Increasingly people are realising that there is huge value in taking micro-breaks during the day as part of managing wellbeing, energy and time as well as longer macro-breaks as part of annual leave. The danger of not doing so is that we lose our ability to switch-off and to disconnect from work, we are always on even though we are running on empty. This can impact on our sleep patterns, on our ability to concentrate, cause extreme mood swings and a weakening of our immune system.”
Rejected Leave Requests
Planning a getaway, organising a special birthday celebration or simply looking forward to some relaxing time away from work can put a spring in every team member's step. But what if it’s not possible to get annual leave signed off? That’s the reality for a number of employees, as the survey reveals that 2 in 5 (40%) have had their annual leave requests either rejected or significantly amended - meaning they couldn’t take time off work when they wanted.
And when it comes to why holiday requests are rejected, the most common reason for doing so came out as staff shortages, with many businesses struggling to find staff to cover an employee whilst they’re on leave. Capacity appears to be an issue generally for organisations, as a further 16% said they were unable to accommodate leave due to excessive workloads.
Claire Lassiter, Senior HR Consultant at Pure Human Resources, weighs in on what constitutes a valid reason from a HR perspective to reject or amend an annual leave request: “Employers are not obliged to agree to every request that is made. If the request would mean that resource was limited because of leave already booked within a team, if the request was very last-minute, or a project could not be completed on time, for example, it would be reasonable for the employer to decline it.
“Additionally, if someone asks for time off during their notice period it would be reasonable for a manager to reject the request in order to ensure that appropriate handover of work is completed before their departure. All requests should be considered on a case-by-case basis with the operational needs of the business in mind. However, there should be reasonable justification for saying no because taking time off is important and essential for employees.”
The survey has revealed that heavy workloads and staff shortages can sometimes prevent office workers from enjoying their annual leave. Whilst this may deter employees from asking for essential time off work, there’s another barrier for them to get through - whether their employer encourages them to take annual leave, or if they feel judged for doing so.
Shockingly, over half (60%) of UK employees claim that their workplace actively discourages them from taking the annual leave, leaving the majority of office workers uncomfortable or unable to request time off. In the age of burnout and overworking, it is also crucial that employers actively encourage their employees to take substantial breaks, and to reduce the risk of burnout - especially given that almost 1 in 10 office workers use up their annual leave for mental health reasons.
The findings also suggest, however, that struggling to take annual leave isn’t just due to employer attitude, as 1 in 10 employees report that their annual leave requests have been answered too late, while another 9% have to regularly remind their employer to check holiday requests. Given that only a quarter (26%) of annual leave requests are processed by a system, the onus appears to be on employers to not only keep on top of employees’ holiday, but also to actively encourage them to take their entitled leave.
Will Foster, Professor of Leadership at Keele University, comments on how organisations’ commitment to employee well being needs to go further and should be a priority: “It’s heartening to see organisations urging their staff to take care of themselves and encouraging time off. However, just below this public persona of care by those at the top was a reality where staff felt that they either could not take any time due to intense workloads, or felt extremely stressed in doing so knowing their work would pile up on their return.
“It’s essential that if the ‘espoused’ values of the organisation include employee wellbeing and restorative breaks, then leaders need to allow that to happen and do more than pay lip service. 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.
“There’s a rather well-worn phrase that we are human beings not human doings – the reality is that we are both and we need to feel engaged at work, as well as be able to stop, switch off and just ‘be’ for our mental and physical wellbeing.”
With employee wellbeing and work-life balance being a key consideration for today’s workforce, it’s evident from the survey that flexible working arrangements need to be ingrained within company culture, and included in key policies.
Rosie Hyam, People Partner at Just Eat, comments on the study: “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.
“And it doesn’t have to be a big break - organisations may want to carve out some time to ensure that employees can take a break and socialise with colleagues during the working week. This can be done through in-office lunches, socials or team bonding activities.”
At Just Eat for Business, we encourage organisations to promote a healthy-work life balance and give employees time away from work - even just for a short while. To bring teams together and help them get away from their screens, check out how our services can help you establish a positive company culture.
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