Top three reasons why staff don’t take their holiday (and what you can do about it)

  • Leave and Absence
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Just over half of UK workers actually take their full annual leave, according to a study.

And when research suggests that taking regular holidays helps employees perform better at work and reduces the risk of burnout, this is a worrying statistic.

Timetastic’s annual leave survey revealed that only 62% of UK workers took all of their holiday entitlement in 2022. And only one in five employees were paid for the leave they didn’t take.

This means more often than not, employees are essentially losing pay and choosing to work more hours than their contract tells them to…Which studies suggest puts them at a higher risk of suffering poor mental and physical health, having more sickness-related absences, and being less productive overall.

So, what are the motivations behind staff not taking their holiday? And what can you do about it?

1.      They’re worried about falling behind on work

Employees might put off taking leave because they’re worried about falling behind on work tasks or having masses to deal with when they come back.

To tackle this, it’s important to help employees manage their workload. If your employee has an upcoming family trip to the Bahamas, they’ll need to organise their work tasks before they go. It might be that your employee needs to prioritise some tasks over others.

They might also need to delegate some tasks to colleagues. (That’s when a detailed handover becomes your best friend.)

If your employee has plans to go away, creating a handover document for staff to follow will help reduce the stress for everyone. A handover gives colleagues the heads up about any tasks and projects that need picking up in your employee’s absence.

This will help minimise the risk of other staff getting confused and bearing the brunt of tasks they weren’t given the heads up about, missed deadlines, and an overwhelming workload to return to.

2.      They feel like they can’t disconnect from work

If you’re constantly bombarded with phone calls and emails when you’re supposed to be relaxing on the beach, you’re going to find it hard to switch off.

And according to a Glassdoor poll, 54% of professionals don’t think they can switch off from work when they’re on leave.

Offering encouragement can help with that. Your employees are more likely to feel better about disconnecting when you tell them it’s okay for them to do so. In, fact you can insist on it.

Make it clear to staff that it’s okay to leave any work-related queries and tasks until they return. And unless it’s an absolute emergency, no one should get in touch with them about work.

You can also lead by example. If you’re taking calls and emails while you’re supposed to be on holiday, your employees might feel they have to do the same. So, when you’re on holiday, keep your work laptop safely stored away and stand by your own rules.

3.      They feel like they can’t leave because of staffing issues

Some employees might feel like they can’t go on holiday out of fear there won’t be enough staff to hold the fort.

If short-staffing is a concern, this is a management issue.

There might be times of the year when more staff request to go on holiday, like during the summer for example.

But when leave requests do come flooding in, it’s important to have a process in place to make sure you aren’t short staffed. Your holiday policy should outline this process. It might be that you accept requests on a first-come first-serve basis.

You can help prevent issues of short-staffing and too many employees taking leave by:

  • Outlining rules for taking leave in your holiday policy - this should tell staff how you manage leave requests e.g. it might be a first-come first-service approach, and how much notice they have to give.
  • Keep track of who’s taking leave so you avoid clashes – it’s much easier to do this when HR software flags up clashes for you and tells you who’s off work and when.


If you’re concerned about your employees not taking leave and how best to support them, our advice line is open 24/7. And if you’re not already a Peninsula client and have questions you want answering, click below to book a free advice call.

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