New research has found that UK employees did not take their full holiday allowance last year due to staffing issues and feeling guilty or discouraged

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Almost one in four (23%) employees did not take their full holiday allowance last year as staffing issues and a sense of guilt around taking time off prevent staff from enjoying their full entitlement. According to new research from Canada Life Group Insurance, this worrying trend – which suggests staff lack a healthy work/life balance – has been sustained for the past two years, with similar levels of employees not taking all of their time off in 2014 and 2015.

Additionally, one in six (16%) employees did not plan their time off and therefore ran out of opportunities, demonstrating the importance of prioritising a healthy balance between work and personal time. The research revealed that the most common reason employees did not use all of their holiday allowance was because they carried some of it into the next year (34%, up from 31% in 2015). However, with 14% being prevented from taking time off because of staffing issues and 11% feeling guilty or discouraged from taking a holiday, staff could be being pressured to carry holiday forward rather than choosing to do so.

In addition to not taking all of their time off, one in five (20%) employees have used annual leave while off sick to avoid a poor sickness record or falling foul of their organisation’s sickness absence policy. Nine in ten (90%) employees have also admitted to coming into work when unwell as presenteeism continues to plague the UK workforce.

Staff could be sacrificing their annual leave instead of taking sickness absence because they do not feel their employer places enough importance on employee health and wellbeing. Only 12% of workers say employee health and welling is the top priority in their organisation, although this is an increase of four percentage points since last year, suggesting a gradual improvement in employer communications about health.

A third of employees (33%) believe cost efficiency is prioritised above staff health, while more than one in five (21%) say the same of employee output in relation to business profits.

However, a higher proportion of staff indicated they have an Employee Assistance Programme that can provide workplace support for sickness absence (11%) compared to last year (8%), either due to improved employer communications or an increased take-up of this service.  One in five (20%) would speak to a designated member of staff about their options if they became ill for an extended period of time.

Yet, nearly half of employees (48%) are not aware of any form of workplace support for sickness absence in their organisation – up from 37% in 2015 – and 13% say this definitely isn’t provided.

Paul Avis, marketing director of Canada Life Group Insurance, comments: “Annual leave is a key part of establishing a healthy work/life balance, as staff who don’t take breaks are prone to stress, burnout and ultimately lower productivity. Employers must ensure their organisation has a positive stance to taking time off and reassuring employees they are free to take their full entitlement is key. Failure to do so could result in higher staff turnover and leave businesses at a significant disadvantage in the battle to recruit and retain top talent.

“With UK productivity levels 17% below the average of G7/developed countries, employers urgently need to address this discrepancy. It has been suggested that improving employee engagement and health and wellbeing may have a direct positive impact on productivity.”