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.
What Are the Consequences of FOTAL?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?