Are your employees afraid of taking leave?

“God, I need a holiday.”

It’s something that all of us say every now and then, but surprisingly, many people aren’t following through.

11% of Australian workers didn’t take any annual leave in 2014, according to research by Expedia – well above the global average of 4%. So much for the myth of the laidback Australian worker!

11% might seem like an acceptable number. After all, that leaves 89% of Australians who are taking annual leave. However, around a quarter of those who did take leave still checked their emails and voicemails a couple of times a day.

So why are employees so reluctant to take leave?

One out of five Australian workers surveyed said they felt unable to take leave because of work commitments, whereas 9% said they felt important decisions would be made without them if they weren’t there.

While there are managers out there who might think that employees eschewing their leave entitlements is a good thing, the evidence suggests otherwise; the negative effects of long hours and endless days in the office with no end sight are numerous. When employees don’t take leave, they may experience a loss of productivity, fatigue and a drop in morale. For those with families, their work-life balance will be impacted, which affects not only your employee , but their family.

Ultimately, your employees taking leave is something that benefits everybody involved. If it’s been a while since anyone on your team has requested some time off, here are a few ways you can encourage them to do so:

Take leave yourself

As a dedicated manager, you may be used to being the first to arrive, last to leave, working on weekends and not taking any annual leave yourself. However, this can foster a culture where overworking becomes the norm, as your employees may start to believe that they also need to putting in those extra hours.

Do yourself and your team a favour by booking that weeklong getaway you’ve been mentally planning for months. By booking in a holiday, you get some much-needed downtime, while signalling to your employees that taking leave is something your business values.

Have a plan for managing absences

One of the reasons people avoid going on leave is because all too often, that post-holiday glow is ruined as soon as they step back into work and realise that an enormous pile of work is waiting for them.

While it’s understandable that will be some tasks that only specific team members can perform, you should have processes in place to ensure that other employees are able to pick up the slack when their colleagues take leave.

Schedule leave well in advance

A good friend of mine works at a well-known adventure travel company. At the start of each year, her manager rolls out a huge calendar, and gets everyone to write in the days they know they’ll want off that year – whether it be a day off here and there for birthdays, weddings or other family events, or a two-week blowout to Europe.

There are two major benefits of booking leave this way. The first is that staff can see when they might be understaffed during the year, and plan accordingly. The second is that it normalises – if not celebrates – staff booking in annual leave.

Be flexible

If you’re going to encourage your employees to utilise their leave entitlements, you need to be flexible.

There is a limit to how flexible you can be, of course. If you operate a retail store, for example, you probably won’t want to agree to half of your staff taking the period around Christmas, no matter how flexible you want to seem!

However, if someone wants to take their leave in a number of smaller increments (say, a series of longer weekends) rather than one single block, consider letting them do so – if you can do it without disrupting the way your business works. Similarly, if two staff members want to take leave at the same time, see if you can make it happen before saying no.

It’s important your team feels like you’ll take their leave requests seriously.

Force staff to take leave

And finally, when all else fails, you can lay down the law and make your employees take leave. This is really only something to consider as a last resort, as forcing employees to do anything rarely fosters goodwill. That said, there are instances – for example, when someone on your team has amassed an excess of annual leave – where this is the best course.

The rules for what is considered ‘excess’ will vary depending on where you are, what industry you work in, and the agreement your employee signed upon commencing their employment with you.

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