Taking time off

It’s time to make the most of warmer climates and to revive our work-weary minds. 

Yet, according to a YouGov/Croner poll report, only one in three workers take their full holiday entitlement. Katie Nicholls asks why we’re so reluctant to take annual leave and why it’s bad news for both us and our employers.


How much holiday can you take?

Every employee in the UK has a basic entitlement of 5.6 weeks annual leave: that’s 28 days every year for full-time workers and pro-rata for part-time employees. The European Union’s Working Time Directive states that employees should be taking a minimum of 20 days leave every year. But government has since increased the minimum entitlement from 20 days per annum to 28 days in 2009.

Despite the increase, the UK still lags woefully at the bottom of the European table with British workers getting the least amount of holiday entitlement. Our lucky Danish counterparts, for example, get a whopping 39.5 days a year!

With each day a precious chance to relax and unwind from the stress of the workplace, why are so few British employees taking what they're entitled too?

Post-recession guilt culture

A TUC report revealed that “due to the challenging economic climate” workers feel compelled to work longer hours and take less days off. Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, says: “Long hours working is making its way back into Britain's workplaces. Employees across the UK already work the longest hours in Western Europe and the recent increase will mean lower productivity, more stress and less time to have a life outside the office.”

Heavier workloads, tighter deadlines and threatened job security all adds to the pressure to perform to the highest standard – even if this means shying away from taking necessary breaks from work.

Shaun Graham, a senior organiser for general union GMB, feels that it’s the responsibility of employers to ensure their staff take their full holiday entitlement. “Many employers are forcing their employees to work through their holidays by keeping staff levels down and 'guilt tripping' up,” he says. “Employees are told to either take their holidays or lose them but are then put in a position where they find it impossible to take time off because of the potential impact on their clients.”

Your holiday rights

“If it still looks like you’re going to reach the end of your leave year without being able to take your leave, you should raise this formally with your manager as they could be breaking the law,” advises the TUC. “If you’re unsure of your rights, ask your union rep for advice and support. Paid holiday leave is not a bonus granted by your employer, it’s a legal entitlement to a break from work. It helps to keep you healthy by giving you time to recharge your batteries and spend time with friends and family.”

Good advice, but even the prospect of taking a break sends us into overdrive. Business standards organisation Investors in People reported that 51% of staff work extra hours before taking holiday while one in ten workers claim they feel guilty about leaving colleagues when they eventually do go away.

Holidays are good for your health

So what are the effects of working long hours without taking sufficient holiday breaks? Melissa Compton-Edwards, author of a report, Married to the Job, has a warning for employers who don’t insist on a healthy work/life balance for their employees:

“What should not be overlooked is that excessive hours can have a negative effect on job performance and cause costly or reputation-damaging mistakes. Fatigue-related accidents are potentially life-threatening. Employers need to ensure that they do everything in their power to improve productivity through efficiency improvements rather than by overloading their staff.”

It’s not good news for your home life either: “While working long hours doesn't necessarily lead to marriage breakdown, it can put a strain on relationships with partners, children and friends,” Melissa says.

A view supported by Simon Briault of the Federation of Small Businesses. He told the BBC: “It is important for employees to take the time off they are entitled to. Everybody needs a break to relax and unwind.”

“In the long run, it will be beneficial for the employee and the employer alike,” continues Simon, “because it helps to reduce ill-health and absenteeism.”

5 tips for the holiday-shy

If you’re married to your job, here are five top tips on how to make sure you take valuable time away from work:


  • Always give your employer plenty of notice of time you’d like to take off
  • Commit yourself to a break by booking flights and hotels in advance
  • Plan a holiday with friends and family so you can’t let them down by backing out
  • Delegate work to colleagues before you leave so you know you won’t return to chaos
  • When you do get away leave the laptop at home, turn off the BlackBerry... and relax!


Related articles:

What job can I do?

Our simple tool can help you
choose your next career move.
Give us five minutes and we’ll
identify the ideal role for you!

Find me the perfect job

Talk to us on Facebook!

Facebook image

We're here to answer your questions!

Like us on Facebook and get advice straight from the experts.