Leaveism or Why Do People Work while on Holidays


Empowerment Coaching Blog-GPI Leaveism

The term has been coined by Dr. Ian Hesketh in 2013 to describe the annual leave habits of employees. ‘Leaveism’ refers to workers taking annual leave to catch up on their workload or working outside of their office hours.


In research done by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), it has been discovered that 63% of UK leaders reported that ‘leaveism’ had occurred in their business. As businesses become increasingly lean, the nowhere to stay ‘always-on’ culture ‘allows’ itself to late-night emails, and employees never really have the chance of switching off from work.


While offices can be a breeding ground for distraction and interruptions, ‘leaveism’ can be conducive to employees feeling increasingly pressured or obligated to work out of hours.


In a recent article published by the BBC’s Worklife discusses the hidden tactic of ‘leaveism’ and how being “away from the distractions of the inbox, watercooler chat with colleagues and the stresses of office life” is fuelling its fat increasing rise.


‘Leaveism’ is an increasing problem for all types of organizations, and it’s an issue that employers should take seriously. If left unmanaged, leaveism could bring down workplace morale and increase stress levels among your staff, which in turn affects productivity.


Clearly for organizations, the cost of employees being anything other than fully productive can have an enormous impact on operational effectiveness. In the UK, the average day’s sickness in the private sector is around 5.8 days per year compared with 7.9 days per year in the public sector.


The overall cost of working-age ill health in the UK exceeds £100 billion every year, employers pay an estimated £9 billion in sick pay and associated costs, and the state pays £13 billion in health-related benefits (incapacity benefits). There is a similar picture in the USA, with health-related productivity losses estimated to reach some $260 billion annually. These financial outcomes, in terms of absence costs and lost productivity, are often what eventually attract the attention of senior managers, providing a persuasive argument for them to focus on improving aspects of working life that are proven to be detrimental to an employee’s well-being.


Absenteeism, presenteeism, and a concept labeled here as ‘leaveism’ are used to provide a lens through which to view employee responses to feeling unwell or being overloaded. So what exactly is ‘leaveism’?

  • Employees utilizing allocated time off such as annual leave entitlements, flexible hours banked, unused rest days in order to take time off when they are in fact unwell;

  • Employees taking work home that cannot be completed in normal working hours;

  • Employees working while on leave or holiday to catch up.

All of these behaviors sit outside current descriptions associated with ‘absenteeism’ and ‘presenteeism’.


Although absenteeism and presenteeism cover some of the human responses to workload and illness, ‘leaveism’ provides the missing link. It defines the previously uncharted phenomenon that describes a situation where an employee uses their own time, in whatever guise, to avoid the workplace when they are in fact unwell, or take work home in order to complete outside contracted hours due to the sheer volume asked of them. These unintended consequences may be brought about by organizations adopting counterproductive policies that were introduced with the [best] intention of reducing absence. Attendance at work policies, actionable attendance policies and the wider use of punitive and incentive-based HRM policies are all examples of schemes intended to reduce absence.


Together with increasing workloads, less staff, and higher expectations, ‘leaveism’ presents an additional consideration for traditional employee monitors that cannot be overlooked. ‘Leaveism’ also adds a further dynamic to human behaviors associated with responses to workplace well-being, and ought to be included in future discussions associated with workforce satisfaction and productivity measures.


It may be a counter-intuitive proposition, but organizations may wish to consider the economic loss should this practice cease as a means of measurement. Whatever the consequences and subsequent approach, ‘leaveism’ presents a real issue when it comes to establishing the true picture of employee well-being and should not be ignored.


Never not Ready for Action

We are in an era where people are much more afraid of losing their jobs than in the past: companies have been operating in a low-growth environment for the past decade, which has meant more focus on profitability – including labor costs. Alongside this is the prospect of more and more jobs being automated in the coming years.


This has meant more employees having to live with excessive workloads, and bosses afraid for their own livelihoods who are micromanaging people and not giving them enough autonomy and control at work. A study of Austrian workers in 2015 concluded that employees were more likely to use annual leave to go off sick if they fear losing their jobs or having them downgraded, or if they were experiencing low job satisfaction.


Compounding this sense of unhappiness at work is likely to be the way that technology is changing how we do our jobs. In a survey of 1,000 HR professionals representing 4.6 million UK employees, 87% said that technology was affecting people’s ability to switch off out of working hours. Common examples were employees taking work-related phone calls or responding to work emails.


At first glance, these behaviors may look fairly innocuous and just part of modern-day working life. However, we are in danger of endorsing a tech-enabled 24-7 working culture from which it is increasingly difficult to switch off. Work-life balance is becoming a thing of the past. For many of us, this is being overruled by work-life integration.


Whatever the positives of not being tied to the office desk, it is not helping us to relax. Stress and mental ill-health now account for 57% of all long-term absences from work, having replaced physical complaints, such as backache, as the main reason employees are off sick.


According to the UK mental health charity Mind’s most recent Workplace Wellbeing Index, employees with poor mental health may resort to taking leave rather than disclosing mental health problems in as many as one in 12 cases. In an echo of the Deloitte findings, Mind found younger employees are far less likely to disclose they are struggling with mental health.


So, what can be done to stop this worrying trend?


Reorganizing the Workload

Whether you are HR or Management if you notice staff frequently using annual leave to keep on top of their workloads, think about the amount of work on their plate. Sit down with them and go through their weekly task list and help them to prioritize.


Having some insight into the volume of tasks they have to complete can help you to understand where they need some support; be it redistributing their workload or scouting a new hire to share the work.


This transparency will help to foster a positive atmosphere that your staff can thrive in without fear of what might happen if they don’t complete their work.


Flexible Hours and Remote Working

Offices are inherently sociable places, and rightly so. However, distractions are often plentiful and concentrating on a task can be very difficult, leaving work to quickly mount up. Research has shown that the average worker is disrupted around 56 times a day and the cost of a distracted employee vastly outweighs that of a loss of productivity, according to a study done in 2018.


Remote or flexible working offers an ideal balance for many, removing distractions without punishing workers. Giving employees the flexibility to work from anywhere at any time instead of having to be in a distracting office environment during strict hours can often be the push they need to power through their workload.


Crushing the ‘always-on’ culture

If your employees are frequently working after hours and responding to emails, this is a sure-fire sign of leaveism. Our smartphones have made it easier than ever to catch up on work, check emails or access documents during our downtime. Coupled with the rise of Cloud software; the line between our professional and personal lives has become increasingly blurred.


A 2016 report by the Chartered Management Institute found the majority of UK managers spent an extra 29 days annually working outside office hours; something that is sure to have only increased in the last few years.


While French and German businesses have made strides in quashing the ‘always at work’ culture, the British have yet to make a stand against the digital ties that chain them to their work, to the obvious detriment of employee mental health and wellbeing.


In 2014, Daimler in Germany arranged for