Ensuring employees take regular breaks from work is important for their mental health and overall wellbeing, with their rights to minimum rest periods and paid annual leave being protected by the Working Time Regulations 1998. Despite this, many organisations admit to having an issue with ‘leavism’, a term coined to represent the practice of working whilst on annual leave or during other non-paid hours. If it is left unchallenged leavism can pose a significant threat to workplace morale and productivity levels, therefore it is important that you are able to spot the signs before it is too late.
What can begin with staff simply popping into the office for a few hours on Saturday mornings or during holidays can quickly develop into a larger issue. If it is allowed to continue this can develop into full blown leavism with staff regularly working throughout the weekend, or whilst they are away on holiday, without pay. Employers should keep track of their employee’s work activity at all times and be prepared to flag any concerns you have if these actions become a regular occurrence. If you do find that employees are regularly having to work outside of paid working hours, then you should strongly consider re-distributing work duties or hire additional staff to help manage workloads.
It is becoming increasingly common for staff to be checking work emails on their daily commute or responding to these during evenings and weekends. Employers often see a sign of an employee’s commitment to their organisation, with many even coming to expect this as a prerequisite for those in senior roles. However, employers need to understand that this action is also an example of leavism and they should look to resolve any workload issues that prevent employees from switching off outside of working hours.
If you notice that a number of staff are failing to take their allocated amount of annual leave, or cancelling planned leave at the last minute, you need to ask yourself “why?”. It may be that staff are reluctant to take a holiday from work because they are scared of the consequences, anxious that work will build up in their absence or fearful that colleagues will not be able to complete the work to the required standard. In these instances, appropriate contingency plans need to be put in place to reassure staff that their work will be managed whilst they are away. As an employer you should also reiterate the importance of annual leave to staff, encouraging them to use their full allocation for their own wellbeing.
Employers must not bury their head in the sand when it comes to leavism and should instead be alert to the signs as they crop up. Although it may be easy to ignore these signs given the short term financial benefit of having staff complete extra work without pay, you should consider how this weighs up against the long term costs which include employee burnout, falling workplace morale and retention issues.