When it comes to sickness at work, most employers are familiar with absenteeism and presenteeism. The first is when your employees don’t come into work because they’re sick, and the second is when they come into work despite being sick.

But there’s a third kind of phenomenon that gets less publicity because its effects aren’t always obvious. It’s called ‘leavism’.

It’s when your employees use their annual leave entitlement or other non-paid hours when they’re ill or feel they need to catch up on work.

Leavism is an increasing problem for all kinds of organisations, and it’s one you should take seriously. If you don’t, it could bring down workplace morale and increase stress levels among your staff, which will then affect productivity.

So what are the symptoms of leavism?

Your staff are working out of hours

Leavism tends to start small before spiralling out of control. One minute your staff are popping into the office for a few hours on the odd Saturday morning, and the next they’re spending entire weekends stuck at their desks.

Before you know it, they’re taking annual leave to catch up on work instead of going on holiday or even just taking a break.

They’re checking emails out of work

Because of how connected the world is these days, your employees may feel pressured to be available all the time, even while they’re away from work.
They may think you expect them to read and answer emails 24/7, and see it as a sign of their commitment to your business.

What to do about leavism

If you find out your staff regularly work beyond their contracted hours and spend their annual leaving completing tasks, then you should strongly consider redistributing their workloads or hiring extra staff.

You should also make sure you aren’t promoting a culture of fear, whereby your staff are scared of what will happen if they don’t complete their work.

When it comes to replying to emails outside of work, you should discourage this practice.

Daimler, the German car company, gave all of its 100,000 employees the option of having all incoming emails deleted automatically from their inboxes while they were on holiday. That way, they wouldn’t feel guilty about not answering them, and they wouldn’t have a huge backlog when they returned to work.

You’re probably wondering what happened to all the unanswered emails. They didn’t just disappear—they were forwarded to another employee from the same department who could deal with them instead.

Don’t ignore it

It’s tempting to ignore the signs of leavism. In the short term, you’re saving money because staff are completing work without getting paid for it. But in the long term, you need to weigh this against the cost of employee burnout, mental health issues and retention.