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#AskCharlie: how to get people to take their holidays

“We have an unlimited holiday policy but have found that many of our team take well below the statutory allowance. How should we encourage healthy holiday habits?”

Every week, our panel of HR experts suggest how to tackle a problem sent in from our community. Have you got a current issue you would like us to address? Email [email protected] and we’ll see if we can help!

John is definitely putting in the hours. He’s always last to leave the office. One day, you talk over lunch and you find out that he has only taken 3 days off this year. He’s a sociable guy, he loves his job and his team likes him. But he just doesn’t feel like taking time off. He’s single and has no kids, so there’s also no external pressure to head off to the beach.

Sounds fair enough, you think, but you know this isn’t healthy. It’s great to have such dedication but it’s also important to take a break.

We have a few suggestions for you:

Communicate the facts

It’s an important part of mental hygiene to let go of work and take a break. Highlight the value of time off in company meetings, team meetings and one-on-ones. Make it clear that nobody gets brownie points for not taking their holiday and emphasise how important leisure is for mental wellbeing, happiness and productivity.

Leaders must set the example

If your leaders don’t take their full holiday allowance, don’t be surprised if the team follows suit. By not taking time off, they are implicitly sending the message that this is the example to follow. Practice what you preach!

Track holiday properly

Identify those who take fewer days off than average and make sure their manager brings up the topic in their next one-on one. It’s useful to have holiday as a standing agenda item - so you always check in on when they’re next taking a break - and HR could send reports to team leaders once a quarter so they have oversight of who in their team is short on time off.

Make the return easy

Some people dread the post-holiday email deluge so much that it stops them wanting to leave at all! Encourage good handovers so colleagues can take care of responsibilities while someone is away, and consider implementing an internal “clean slate” policy whereby everyone archives all internal emails that have piled up during their holiday. If someone wants something from them, they need to email them again when they’re back in the office. Often, the majority of requests will have resolved themselves by that point.

Look for patterns

Are those lacking holidays concentrated in one particular team or function? This could be the sign of an overstretched department. It’s often the case also that those without partners are less organised booking holiday because they have less external pressure to do so.

Encourage them to be the example

Let John know that he has influence on other people around him. By not taking time off, he may be subtly pressuring others to do the same, even if he is not their boss. They may believe that not taking time off gives him an edge for the next promotion cycle. Calling to his conscience and setting this as part of his own leadership development could help.

Install a floor

Consider establishing a minimum number of holiday days per quarter. That will create a forcing mechanism that keeps holiday at the forefront of people’s mind and makes it easier to call out those who aren’t taking enough.

Different people have different limits, but everyone needs time off if they’re going to work effectively and consistently. It’s often surprising that people need coercing to do so, but it does happen, and it’s important to stay on top of it.

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