Why Half of Your Employees Are Not Using Their Holiday Entitlement

Photo by Hilts uk on Flickr

In the frantic run up to summer, the discussions at THT HQ have naturally drifted towards holiday entitlement, and the big question: how many people actually take their whole entitlement each year? Given that we have the data, we couldn’t resist running the numbers:

Surprisingly, 47% of our customers’ employees finished last year with holiday entitlement remaining!

Around 38% of our customers allow their employees to carry-over some portion of their holiday entitlement, but we still think there’s room for improvement.

The Myth: Employees not taking their full holiday entitlement is good for the company.

It’s easy to get lost in the basic logic that employees not taking holidays equates to higher productivity, but as with most things, it’s more complicated than it seems.


No matter how super-human we sometimes think we are; constantly working with no breaks ultimately leads to burnout. Tired employees are NOT productive employees, and just because they’re sitting at their desk every day, does not mean they’re working!

Whether you take a two-week holiday in the sun, or just potter around the house for a few days, there’s no denying you come back to work feeling refreshed and more focused.

Increased Sick Leave

Burnout and stress can make employees ill. As you know, sick leave is MUCH more costly to a business than holiday entitlement; it’s unplanned and leaves coverage spread too thin.
A recent YouGov survey, commissioned by Wolters Kluwer, found that 13 percent of employees felt that they could not take time off from work, while four percent said they were worried what their employer would think if they requested more time off. This in turn led some employees to fake illness and take sick leave instead.

Increased Staff Turnover

So think about it, if employees don’t feel they can take holidays, they’re more likely to move to a company where they can. The time saved from a few holidays not being taken pales in comparison to the time spent training and on-boarding new employees.

The bottom line: working too hard and for too long can be unsustainable and unproductive. Employees that have a healthy work/life balance contribute far more to your organisation than those who don’t.

This leads us to the question: why don’t employees take all their holiday entitlement? There are a number of reasons this could be the case:

Heavy Workload

In this information rich world we live in, where the emails don’t stop just because you do, many employees feel that they simply can’t stop to take a break. Some employees, fearing what they might return to, feel it’s not worth taking time off just to come back to an exploding inbox.

Company Culture

Managers not taking holidays themselves, can lead to a company culture where employees at all levels of the business feel it’s not appropriate to take their full entitlement. This becomes a repeating cycle which reinforces the culture. Employees feel like they’re asking for a favour to take holiday, rather than something they’re entitled to.

Too Many People Off

School holidays and Christmas are obviously popular times for people to request leave. The bottlenecks at these times of year mean there are inevitably some employees who miss out on taking the holidays they’d like. This becomes a problem when these employees fail to request alternative dates.

Staff Shortage

Staff shortages are much more likely to affect small businesses than larger ones, but it’s something that needs to be addressed at any size. In small teams staff might not feel they can leave their colleagues holding the bag, especially during busy times.

So What Should We Do about It?

Our advice, lead by example: ensure management understand the value of taking a break, and encourage them to take all of their own holiday entitlement. Driving change from the top down is the quickest way to improve company culture.

Keep staff informed: make sure all staff know where to find the company holiday policy and stress within it that it’s not only okay, but encouraged, to take holidays.

Communicate with your staff throughout the year about holidays, reminding people when the busy holiday periods are. As the end of your holiday year approaches, remind staff that have holiday entitlement left that they are encouraged to take it.

Consider implementing minimum entitlement: a bold new idea being spearheaded by a lot of tech companies at the moment is the concept of enforcing a minimum entitlement figure. Essentially forcing your employees to use a certain amount of their holiday entitlement. Not only does this ensure your employees are well rested, but it demonstrates your company’s commitment to staff and ensures people don’t feel guilty for taking holidays.

Make the whole process transparent and visible. Is it easy for your employees to find out how much holiday entitlement they have and what they’ve used? Simply having an Excel spreadsheet on a shared drive can facilitate this, but using a tool like The Holiday Tracker greatly increases visibility for your employees, while allowing you to retain total control.

Remember, everyone benefits when your employees make full use of their holiday entitlement. Employees return to work with more energy and a clear focus, which in turn makes them more productive, which is the ultimate goal!

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