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Us Brits have a weird relationship with annual leave. Though some of us are meticulous with it, planning every day down to a T so that we can utilise the calendar, others are lax or downright negligent when it comes to taking time off work.
The latter might especially be the case for those faced with job precarity, such as those on zero-hours contracts. Or, it can be a simple sign of being overworked, feeling like you “haven’t got time” for time off, given the demands being placed on you.
Whichever camp you fall into, it’s worth remembering that annual leave is your legal right.
If you start a new job, for example, you’re likely to work months on end without taking a break. But you can’t be penalised if you already had a holiday planned, or plan to within the first few months (unless this was previously stated by the company).
Here are some other ways we’re getting it all wrong:
Why do we call it annual leave?
A writer who goes by the name Sixth Form Poet questioned why we call it annual leave in the first place. This cold and vague moniker feels like leave that should be taken annually as opposed to incrementally so stave off burnout.
They wrote on Twitter: “We really need to change the name of annual leave so it sounds less like a forced bank holiday and more like a basic human right not to work the entire time.”
This might look like differentiating between a self-care day, a vacation, or other personal leave. Doing so can also signal to your employer that you’re taking time off for a particular reason and should not be approached in this time (they shouldn’t be contacting you regardless of your reason).
We’re not taking enough of it
In 2017, British Airways did a study into Britons’ attitudes towards annual leave. In their survey of 2,000 people, they found that one third of Brits did not use up their paid time off in 2017, losing four days on average, and a further 69% said they did not take a two-week holiday. In 2020, job website Glassdoor found that the average employee only takes 62% of their holiday allowance.
But of course, taking time off isn’t always possible for everyone. For freelance PR consultant Erica Vonderwall, 37, from London, being out of office means saying no to opportunities.
She tells HuffPost UK: “When I was a full-time employee, there was no fear of me taking all my leave but since going freelance and working for myself, I am The Worst!
“Mainly I think now it’s because I like to ‘book’ my clients and projects a few months in advance, so that when I actually stop to think about taking time off, I’ve already overbooked myself! I really need to get into the habit of blocking out a week every few months so that I then have the opportunity to take some time off, but.. I feel guilty.
“I think, If I say no to a client, they will find someone else, or, if I don’t do this project I will lose out on income, rather than: I really need a break to look after my brain!”
Working while on leave
Many of us have checked in on work emails while lounging by a pool, at the airport, or even at home if we’re taking some chill out time. But, please, resist the urge to work while on holiday. Everything you’re doing can wait until you’re back.
We’re leaving it last minute
This is an easy trap to fall into as many of us have thought we’ll leave it for later, but for most companies there’s a cut off point and accrued leave might not roll over meaning you’ve missed out on paid leave.
Eric*, a 29-year-old who works in data and digital technologies, from London, says he’s guilty of this.
“I like to save up my annual leave. So, I get hesitant about using it all up at once, in case I need it later in the year.”
Avoid this and try to book paid time off at the start of the year (you can always change later), this also means you get first pick during busy periods.
We’re avoiding taking leave at new jobs
As mentioned earlier, a lot of us think that we shouldn’t have time off when we’re relatively new at a job. And while some companies might have rules against PTO during the probation period, they have to accept that you might already have a holiday booked.
But you need to let them know as soon as you start. You might need to have a conversation with them to figure out a solution if it’s a particularly big ask – say, you’ve got a three-week trip planned.
When it comes to annual leave, sometimes it can feel like it’s out of our hands – our bosses dictate when is a good time to be off, the work load is too much, or it might be frowned upon to be off for two blocks in quick succession.
There is also the frustration of having leave booked that managers are unwilling to sign off. This might mean you have to offer a compromise such as working on some of the days, finding cover, or reorganising your hours.
But don’t forget that your employers should also watch out for your wellbeing and happiness, so having those open conversations with compassion and understanding is also a must.
It’s not just you who’s doing annual leave wrong – your boss might be too.
*Name has been changed.
Life-Work Balance questions the status quo of work culture, its mental and physical impacts, and radically reimagines how we can change it to work for us.