Don’t Let Annual Leave Slip Through Your Fingers (It’s Hurting Your Business!)

In the UK it is reported that 6.5 million paid annual leave days slip into the ether every year. For workers with holiday running from January to December, the average worker nationally will have 6 annual leave days which will be left unused (and not roll over) by the end of the year.

The cumulative effect of the year-long vacation-less has been estimated as a whopping £676 trillion being ‘saved’ by businesses every year. The true picture of this will vary dramatically for different industries, some will be winding down and investing in company festivities, whilst others will be worked within an inch of their limit to meet their end of year targets: cue the retail, temp and customer service workers petitioning for leave this Boxing Day.

But do unspent holidays really make for a more profitable company? In our experience, stressed out, burnt-out, employees who don’t feel they can take time-off, will quickly be looking to jump-ship for a company which offers them a better work-life balance. If an overworked team loses an overworked employee, the company will need to recruit quickly and wisely before a mass migration of their employees move to their competitors.

So what’s a company to do?

Help foster trust. We’re living in an age of corporate social responsibility and businesses are being assessed for their trustworthiness like never before. Think of Aldi’s ‘A Day on the Farm’ ad campaign welcoming sceptical customers to see their livestock farms standards first hand or McDonald’s 100% Chicken Breast ads in the response to mutant chicken nugget urban legends.

While big companies are spending millions to gain the trust of their customers, they’re also learning to foster more trust of their staff.  Trust that work will be completed to a high degree, not because they have been at a desk for the right number of hours, but because their employees care about delivering good work, progressing their career and advancing the company.

Indeed, Brazilian company Semco, has been lightyears ahead of the trust game for a long time. Since 1981, they have instituted a ‘no vacation limit’ policy, and under Richard Semler’s direction the company has grown from $4 million to having a net worth of over $1 billion in 2016. Netflix and Virgin has also famously adopted the ‘no vacation limit’ policy for salaried staff and have been growing from strength to strength. It seems trust is the key to a loyal and profitable workplace.

Disbelievers have proffered that the ‘no vacation limit’ policy is a smoke-screen for big companies and that employees are more likely to take holiday when they have an allocated number to take, but at some point the responsibility lies on the individual to engineer the work-life balance that’s right for them.

What can I do?

Richard Semler invoked the ‘no-vacation’ policy from a serious health-scare he suffered at the age of 21 which was brought on by a stressful work environment. Managers often make the mistake of assuming that more responsibility equals more stress, but stress is not always logical. The truth is that anxiety over job security can be most severe for graduates and executives looking to prove themselves, as Richard Semler once was. What’s more, it has become a social norm to conceal our stresses, rather than share and confront with them, especially at work, for fear of appearing incompetent.

If managers take the time to look after themselves and their stress levels by taking their holiday, then the team will usually follow by example. Encourage and remind people to book their holiday and make time to listen to people’s last-minute requests. Acting without foresight of how your decision may affect an employee’s morale may come back to hurt you. Was the client meeting they had to attend really worth losing their trust?

As a recruiter for Applause IT Recruitment, I work with many companies who offer flexible working hours, such as core hours between 10am and 4pm, a minimum work week of 37 hours, and the rest is up to you.  This can be invaluable for those with childcare commitments or just avoiding the rush-hour commute which can dramatically affect your happiness at work. If you’re stressed at work, don’t suffer in silence. Most managers aren’t monsters, but they may not have the information or foresight to make the best decisions. Your annual leave days are a right and you should feel comfortable and confident in asking for them as needed.

So, this Christmas, remember to take some time to relax and re-centre, if not for yourself, then for the company who needs a healthy and happy employee returning in 2017. Don’t feel guilty for the days-off spent getting the house in-law ready, presents wrapped, and boxsets watched.  Everyone will be better for it.

Psssstttt:  You can gain 18 consecutive days off in April 2017 by booking just 9 days off work! You didn’t hear it here…

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