Two fifths of Scottish employees are unable to take time off due to staff shortages, survey reveals

  • Two fifths (40%) of office workers in Scotland regularly have their annual leave requests rejected due to staff shortages, a new nationwide survey shows.
  • The Annual Leave Allowances study from Just Eat for Business looks at how annual leave  impacts work/life balance, and how frequently employees are taking time off.
  • While two fifths are having time off denied, a further 22% of Scots are unable to fully enjoy their annual leave due to excessive workloads and unplanned staff absences.
  • Will Foster, Professor of Leadership, and Anni Townsend, Leadership Partner, stress the importance of taking annual leave, and reveal the consequences of overworking.

Two fifths (40%) of Scottish office workers are prevented from taking annual leave, with their requests frequently rejected due to staff shortages, a new nationwide survey has revealed. 

The Annual Leave Allowances survey, from Just Eat for Business, reveals how office workers utilise annual leave allowance, how their employer promotes holiday entitlement, and how time off impacts work-life balance amidst a move towards flexible working. 

Despite annual leave being key to employees taking time off work to rest and re-energise, many of the nation’s workforce are unable to do so due to staff shortages and demands.

This includes 2 in 5 Scottish workers, who regularly have their annual leave requests rejected to accommodate reduced staff resources, and a further fifth (22%) who are contacted whilst away from work to assist with staff absences and/or excessive workloads.

In fact, a recent report on the Impacts of Labour Shortages on Scotland’s Economy found that over one third of Scottish businesses are experiencing a shortage of workers, while candidate supply for permanent jobs had also reached an all-time low.

As a result, many office workers are being asked to forgo annual leave and to work longer hours, unpaid, in order to make up for the shortfall and help manage heavy workloads.

The survey showed that a third (31%) of Scottish employees regularly have to remind their manager to review their annual leave requests, while a further 63% say that their employer actively discourages them from taking any time off at all.

It’s no surprise then that 44% of employees report feeling burnt out at work, while a third find trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance to be the most stressful aspect of work.

What’s more, Scottish workers who are able to take annual leave aren’t doing so as flexibly as they’d like, as 14% have to use this allowance to also cover medical appointments.

While employers aren’t legally required to grant time off work for hospital appointments, the reality is that many medical issues require appointments to be made during working hours, and so many employees are having to use their annual leave to ensure that they can attend.

This is despite many organisations advertising flexible working arrangements and generous leave entitlements on job adverts – only then to instil unhealthy working habits in staff.

For Will Foster, Professor of Leadership at Keele University, this isn’t acceptable, as he says: “It’s essential that if the ‘espoused’ values of the organisation include employee wellbeing and restorative breaks, then leaders need to allow that to happen and do more than pay lip service. Management must do the hard work of ensuring the structures, roles, responsibilities and staffing levels align so employees can take a ‘true rest’ when needed.”

For Anni Townend, Leadership Partner, organisations should at least look to encourage regular breaks during the working week even if extended annual leave isn’t manageable. She says: “Annual leave is an important part of a much bigger picture of looking after our life-work balance and of creating a positive work culture.

“Increasingly people are realising that there’s huge value in taking micro-breaks during the day as part of managing employee wellbeing, as well as longer macro-breaks like annual leave. The danger of not doing so is that we lose our ability to switch-off and to disconnect from work. This can impact our sleep patterns and our ability to concentrate, as well as cause extreme mood swings and a weakened immune system.”

Rosie Hyam, People Partner at Just Eat for Business, also weighed in on the survey findings: “Given the emphasis on employee well being and work-life balance over the last few years, it’s essential that Scottish employers are receptive to flexible working arrangements, and that they allow employees to take time away from work when needed.

“And it doesn’t have to be a big break – organisations may want to carve out some time to ensure that employees can take a break and socialise with colleagues during the working week. This can be done through in-office lunches, socials or team bonding activities.”

The full results of the Annual Leave Allowance survey, can be read here: 

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