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What is leaveism and how can you combat it?

What is leaveism and how can you combat it?

Coined by Dr Ian Hesketh in 2013 to describe the annual leave habits of employees, the term leaveism refers to workers taking annual leave to catch up on their workload or working outside of their contracted hours.

Research by the CIPD found that 63% of UK leaders reported that leaveism had occurred in their business. As businesses become increasingly lean, the ‘always on’ culture lends itself to late night emails and employees never really getting the time to switch off away from work.

While offices can be a breeding ground for distraction and interruptions, leaveism can be conducive to employees feeling increasingly pressured or obligated to work out of hours.

A recent article published by the BBC’s Worklife discusses the hidden tactic of leaveism and how being “away from the distractions of a pinging inbox, watercooler chat with colleagues and the stresses of office life” is fuelling its recent rise.

So, what can you do to stop leaveism?

Redistribute workloads 

Whether you are HR or Management, if you notice staff frequently using annual leave to keep on top of their workloads, think about the amount of work on their plate. Sit down with them and go through their weekly task list and help them to prioritise.

Having some insight into the volume of tasks they have to complete can help you to understand where they need some support; be it redistributing their workload or scouting a new hire to share the work.

This transparency will help to foster a positive atmosphere that your staff can thrive in without fear of what might happen if they don’t complete their work.

Offer flexible or remote working 

Offices are inherently sociable places, and rightly so. But distractions are often rife and concentrating on a task can be very difficult, leaving work to quickly mount up.. Research has shown that the average worker is disrupted around 56 times a day and the cost of a distracted employee vastly outweighs that of a loss of productivity (ChiefLearningOfficer, 2018).

Remote or flexible working offers an ideal balance for many, removing distractions without punishing workers. Giving employees the flexibility to work from anywhere at any time instead of having to be in a distracting office environment during strict hours can often be the push they need to power through their workload.

Quash the ‘always on’ culture

If your employees are frequently working after hours and responding to emails, this is a sure-fire sign of leaveism. Our smartphones have made it easier than ever to catch up on work, check emails or access documents during our downtime. Coupled with the rise of Cloud software; the line between our professional and personal lives has become increasingly blurred.

A 2016 report by the Chartered Management Institute found the majority of UK managers spent an extra 29 days annually working outside office hours; something that is sure to have only increased in the last few years.

While French and German businesses have made strides in quashing the ‘always on’ culture, us Brits have yet to make a stand against the digital ties that chain us to our work, to the detriment of employee mental health and wellbeing.

In 2014 Daimler in Germany arranged for emails to be automatically deleted when employees were on holiday. The sender would then receive a message inviting them to find an alternative recipient of the email, leaving the employee to return from holiday to an empty inbox. 2017 saw France introduce a right to disconnect, with companies instructed to set out the hours when staff shouldn’t send or respond to emails.

While these two cases are relatively extreme, as an employer you should be ensuring that your employees don’t feel pressured into working outside of their contracted hours. Set expectations and understand your employees’ needs. Your employees also need to take some responsibility as it is up to them if they switch their phones off or not.