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.