Australians Are Hoarders – Do You Suffer From FOTAL?

An icon of a person relaxing under a sun umbrella, with a drink in their hand, on a coloured space background.

Ah, the holidays. It is a rare few that don’t look forward to (or even long for) that stretch of days without formal work. Full-time employees in Australia have an entitlement to four weeks paid annual leave. This entitlement is pro-rated for part-time. Compared to some countries (play with the embedded Tableau graph below), we are lucky to have this amount. When you add in the 10 or so public holidays each year, Australians get a significant amount of paid time off. And yet… at last count, we were holding on to a combined 133,737,000 days. It turns out that Fear Of Taking Annual Leave (FOTAL) is now a thing.

Data Source

What Are the Consequences of FOTAL?

For You

FOTAL means stress. Burnout. Anxiety. Rage. Depression. The old proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” still applies 350 years after it was first recorded. When our wellbeing suffers, we aren’t able to perform either at work or at home. We may become irritable, or irrational. We become burnt out and make stupid decisions. Our health falters, our brains turn to mush. We only have the energy to flop in front of the TV. We stress eat, or drink, or shop, or gamble. Our relationships suffer. This becomes a vicious cycle. As our productivity drops, we complete less at work so feel even less able to take time off. FOTAL is bad for our health.

A gorgeous view over Lake Jindabyne.
Wouldn’t you rather be at Lake Jindabyne than at work?

For Your Employer

With an ever-increasing focus on productivity and efficiency dividends, tired, burned-out employees can have a direct effect on a business’ bottom line. A drop in productivity, poorer customer service, clashes between team members and higher levels of sick or other unplanned leave all need intervention by management or Human Resources*

Hoarded annual leave is also considered a growing debt to businesses. If an employee accrued leave two years ago, and has since received a pay rise, the employer must pay the annual leave at the current rate of pay. Likewise there is a significant impact on cash flow when an employee resigns and is paid out their accrued annual leave.

The issue of FOTAL has become so significant that in July 2016, the Fair Work Commissioner amended 112 modern workplace awards. The changes allow employers to offer staff the option of cashing in their annual leave, as long as they still hold a minimum of 4 weeks. The Commissioner strengthened rules to allow employers to force staff to take leave if they have more than 8 weeks accrued. Likewise, employees with excessive leave have the right to take some even if denied by the employer, as long as they can prove genuine negotiation has taken place.

*People and Culture!

A view over Orange taken from the top of Mt. Canobolas. if you suffer from FOTAL, you may never experience places like this.
Orange from Mt. Canobolas – if you suffer from FOTAL, you may never experience places like this.

Why Are People Afraid To Take Annual Leave?

There are many possible reasons that people don’t take their earned allocation of annual leave:

  • There are a limited number of resources available. Your manager says “no”.
  • You have applied for leave at a particularly busy time. Your manager says “no”.
  • There’s no one else to do your job. You will have to work your guts out before leaving. Still, when you return, your entire holiday period workload will be waiting for you.
  • You are afraid that if someone does fill in for you, they will change/take over/identify issues with what you’ve been doing.
  • You hold concerns about how your colleagues will view you. How it might affect your opportunities for promotion?
  • You’re way too busy at work and home to take time to even plan a proper holiday.
  • There’s no point, because it takes you a week to let go, and then you start thinking about going back. It’s not a relaxing break.
  • Your employer expects you to check emails and answer phone calls, so you’re still working.
  • You know your employer can’t afford for you to go off right now, and you don’t want to be a burden to your colleagues.
  • You feel guilty about relaxing. Even the thought of relaxing is stressful. It’s better to keep working to finish the tasks that need doing.
  • Friends or family can’t get leave at the same time, or you have no plans, so it feels like a waste.
  • Holidays are too expensive; you can’t afford to do anything.
  • You were saving it up to take an overseas holiday, but something happened and you weren’t able to go.
  • There is a risk you will lose your job. You want a fallback for when that happens.
  • You don’t know what life will bring, so you need to keep some leave up your sleeve in case of sickness or carer’s duties.
  • You’d rather spend your money on putting in a pool or a home cinema. Holidays aren’t a priority.
An island in Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Halong Bay, Vietnam. No leave, no life!

What Can You Do About FOTAL?

  • If your boss says no, negotiate. There may be good reason that the business can’t afford for you to go on leave at a certain point. That shouldn’t be true for a full 12 months.
  • If you hold concerns about your workload, then do what you can to plan ahead to have as much done as possible. If you absolutely have to have everything completed before you leave, consider whether it would be less stressful to start early for 20 minutes each day over a month than pull all-nighters before you leave. Check out this handy infographic from Chief Mom Officer for more in-depth tips.
  • Talk to your colleagues. Negotiate with them for a quid pro quo – if they help you now, you will help them when their time comes.
  • Concerned about promotional opportunities? Open communication with your manager. Let them know what you have accomplished before you go on leave, and what you plan to accomplish when you return. Sell the benefits to the company of returning refreshed and rejuvenated. Read about how taking a vacation can earn you a raise at Mustard Seed Money
  • Set boundaries for being away on holidays. Push back. Learn to say no, within reason.
  • If you can’t afford to go away, there are a couple of options. Each school holidays, websites and print media publish listicles of the best free things to do. Tear them out, print them, keep them, save them in Evernote, then consult them for inspiration.
  • Another option could be a new startup that is working to help employees save for their holidays. My Four Weeks bills itself as being like “superannuation for holidays”. If your employer signs up, you can have an amount taken out of your pay automatically each payday, and use this to purchase travel and accommodation. This means no need to rely on credit cards or other forms of debt. This leads to financial stress, and mitigates all the positive benefits of taking a holiday.
A view over Lake St. Clair from Pumphouse Point, Tasmania.
Pumphouse Point, Tasmania. A-MAZE-ING. Spot Mr. ETT walking back to our room.

You’ve Tried and It’s Impossible

If none of this is any help, and you are genuinely stuck in a role where taking leave is impossible, it might be time to go back and review your value-based goals. Is this job helping you reach them with a fair trade-off of your life? If not, ask yourself whether it is time to consider something else.

Finally, close your eyes for a moment and imagine what would happen if you won 20 million in tonight’s Powerball, and decided never to walk into work again*. Would the entire business collapse, or would they end up coping? My guess is that in 99.9% of the cases, they would cope and move on. (That sounds harsh. I’m sure they would celebrate for you (Lotto) or mourn (bus) first.)

*for the pessimists, what if you were hit by a bus? (Why do buses always get the bad rap?)

For the record, I have very little annual leave as I started a new job this year. I was paid out for 4 weeks when I left my last job. Mr. ETT has 10 weeks, for many of the reasons listed above.

Do you hoard your leave? Why or why not?


Data Source

6 thoughts on “Australians Are Hoarders – Do You Suffer From FOTAL?

  1. Yikes, the United States is all the way over on the left in the graph! Despite that I do get about 4 weeks of “paid time off”, which can’t roll over into future years. So at my company we can’t hoard the time, we have to use it-or lose it. Many people do end up losing it. This year I’m going to officially lose a few days, although I’ll talk to my management and be able to unofficially carry them over to use next year.

    • I didn’t realise that some companies in the US offered holiday leave that can’t be rolled over. I found in my research that Germany offers 6 weeks to full-time workers, but, similarly it must be used each year. Sorry you might lose a few days – hopefully your negotiation pans out. I’m updating my post with a link to your infographic – very helpful, thanks!

      • Thanks so much! I hope others find it useful. And some companies in the US offer no leave at all, which I assume is why it’s over there on the graph. There’s no law that says people are entitled to paid time off. So companies can technically give whatever they want-including nothing.

  2. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    Having to ask permission to take a holiday was one of the things that drove me to freelancing. Once you are your own boss you tell the clients when you are available, not beg their permission… of course the downside is no more paid holidays!

    On balance if you are good at what you do freelancing, and consistently deliver, then you can take as much holiday as you can afford. Has been super useful with school age kids and seemingly endless school holidays than no annual leave allowance could come close to covering!

    • You are right, Slow Dad, this is something that I am finding more and more frustrating the older I get. Particularly as we both work in businesses now where there is a mandatory shutdown over Christmas. This just means we waste half our leave cleaning the house and preparing for Christmas, as well has having to be off during school holidays, and when there is a significant premium on all things travel!

      I love your URL – Mr. ETT came to mind instantly. Massive congratulations on reaching FI!

  3. Thanks for the shout out!!! That’s awesome that Australians get four weeks of paid leave every year. Like the US I think too many people try to be the good solider and forgo leave to power through and make themselves look good. I wonder if that’s why people in the US are more stressed and studies have shown that people come back more rested and recharged after a nice vacation break. Anyway thanks for sharing!!!!

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