How to encourage employees to take annual leave

By Robert Half on 21 December 2021
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

When you consider the growing list of work that must be completed in your office, annual leave can often be far from a relaxing thought.

However, with all work and no play, the capacity for innovative thinking and effective problem solving can rapidly take a dive.

In fact, studies by Expedia show that people who take their holiday leave become more productive and happier. Holidays offer many benefits for your employees, as well as your business.

In this article, find out why it’s important to encourage staff to take their unused annual leave. Plus, discover ways to support your staff, so they can switch off and truly relax whilst they’re away.

Why is it important to take unused annual leave?

According to a study by Expedia, Australians receive 20 days annual leave on average each year, but only take around 14 days.

As staff forgo roughly 25% of their holiday leave, it therefore comes as no surprise that Expedia’s research also found that 58% of employees feel holiday deprived.

Not taking time off can impact productivity levels and staff morale. It also has an impact on a company’s financial liability.

By taking vacation time, Expedia’s study revealed that a staggering 91% of employees felt less stressed and more relaxed.

Related: 7 key employee engagement factors that really matter to staff

How to encourage employees to take annual leave

With so many employees choosing to forgo holidays, the responsibility for making sure they get downtime falls on their managers.

Staying on top of your holiday policies can be crucial as these problems could far outweigh the benefits of having a workforce prepared to stay at their desk come rain or shine.

Here are five suggestions to inspire your staff to take a vacation:

1. Remind staff to book annual leave in advance

Start by having an open conversation with your staff about their unused annual leave. Find out if they’re planning any exciting trips and remind them to book holidays as far in advance as possible, so you can be prepared.

Sometimes a formal email communication to your team or wider office encouraging staff to take annual leave can be beneficial to highlight this action as a priority. In your email, you should emphasise the benefits of taking annual leave and remind staff about the process to lodge a leave request with their managers.

Don’t forget to keep projects and key deadlines in mind. If going away isn’t an option, then support a 'staycation'. You don’t always need to go abroad to reap the benefits of taking time off. Sometimes a week at home can be just as relaxing. Or, if a long break isn’t possible, a few long weekends can have a big impact on their overall well-being and won’t have a big impact on work.

Related: The benefits of mentoring in the workplace

2. Ensure there is appropriate cover

Employees can worry about taking annual leave as tasks will get left and new tasks will continue to add up during their leave. Work with employees to find a suitable solution.

For example, encourage employees to wrap up as many tasks as possible and assign ongoing or important tasks to other colleagues. Enlisting a few colleagues rather than one will help manage the workload much more effectively. You can then feel confident that projects will stay on track and your staff will know that their work is being left in capable hands.

Handover notes, or sitting down in a meeting before the employee heads off can be a big help too. This is a good opportunity to have a final update on where projects stand, what needs to be done and where relevant files and folders are located. Don’t forget to remind employees to add an out-of-office to emails and voicemail, including the names and contact information of those covering the work.

3. Encourage staff to switch off during annual leave

While your staff are on leave, remind them of the importance of switching off. It can be a challenge to switch off completely, with smartphones and tablets keeping them connected 24/7.

However, if staff continue to check emails throughout their holiday, it can be just as bad as not taking time off at all. Whilst having appropriate cover can help, suggest staff set themselves ground rules. For example, limit check-ins to only once or twice daily, for a maximum of 30 minutes.

Related: The benefits of good staff morale

4. Energise your workforce

Create a work environment in which employees feel secure taking their accrued holiday leave. This offers the opportunity to improve the mood and productivity of your workers. It can also help you better manage your workforce.

Avoid a glut on last-minute holiday requests by making it easy to apply for unused annual leave and responding to requests in a positive way. Don't sit back and allow staff to run themselves ragged or accidentally miss out on the holiday break they're due. Take a proactive stance and urge them to make the most of their holidays.

5. Help staff ease back into work after their leave

Getting back into the swing of things after being away can take some time. Staff will also have plenty of calls and emails to return.

Try to avoid lining up lots of new projects or meetings for their first week back. Otherwise, they may come back and feel like they already need another holiday.

The importance of taking unused annual leave is often overlooked and underplayed in the workplace. This can result in employees feeling guilty for requesting time off, or fearing the business will struggle without them. When you consider the pace at which most of us move every day, attaining work-life balance should be a priority.

Related: How to motivate staff, and why it matters

So, make sure you do your part and encourage your staff to take their holiday days this year!

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