1 in 5 Employees Can’t Take Time Off Work Due to Staff Shortages, Survey Reveals

In a new survey from Just Eat for Business, researchers discovered that 22% of UK office workers can’t take time off due to staff shortages. What implication does this have on the market? And what can business leaders do about it?

A fifth of UK office workers now feel that they can’t take time off work, even to use up their annual leave, in a blow to employee wellbeing and morale at a time of acute economic uncertainty. The Annual Leave Allowances survey, conducted by Just Eat for Business, also revealed that a further 26% of UK office workers have had their holiday disturbed due to staff absences and heavy workloads.

The survey 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. But the findings highlight a worrying backslide trend on work/life balance gains achieved so far this decade with the rise of hybrid working. Now, with staff vacancies increasingly difficult to fill, it appears that UK office workers could find themselves under more pressure to perform than ever before.

Staff Absences Fuelling Pressue on UK Office Workers

Despite annual leave playing a vital role in helping employees to rest, recuperate, and re-energise, many among the nation’s workforce are unable to take that time off due to staff shortages and work demands.

Recent reports suggest that labour shortages are to blame, with the UK economy harbouring 1.3 million job vacancies and 900,000 fewer workers today than the Bank of England expected prior to the pandemic. This imbalance is inhibiting economic recovery from multiple global crises, including the pandemic, war in Ukraine, and the ongoing inflation and energy crisis.

In the Annual Leave Allowances survey, staff shortages came out as the biggest disruptor of annual leave requests. What’s more, 26% of office workers claim that they can’t enjoy time off once they’re granted it because they’re contacted by employers to help cover unplanned staff absences or excessive workloads.

Further complicating the issue is that 60% of employees feel their employer explicitly discourages them from taking time off work. Meanwhile, 10% don’t feel able to ask for mental health leave.

All of this is concerning experts, with feelings of burnout increasing among the workforce that will soon exacerbate the problem. Currently, 44% of employees report feeling burnt out at work, and a third find trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance to be the most stressful aspect of holding down a job.

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.

Will Foster
Professor of Leadership at Keele University

will-foster keele university

Business Leaders Must Act to Improve Employee Wellbeing

If these issues aren’t addressed now – be it through automation to alleviate workloads or by attracting and retaining key staff – problems with mental health and employee productivity will become endemic in the UK. The result may be further economic troubles to hit the economy.

The survey suggests that advertising flexible working arrangements and generous leave entitlements on job adverts may not be enough. Complete transformation of business culture will be necessary to alleviate these issues among UK office workers and discourage unhealthy working habits.

“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,” argues Will Foster, Professor of Leadership at Keele University. “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.”

Others take a similar view, but provide alternative approaches to allowing employees to rest up. Anni Townend, Leadership Partner and podcast host, 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.”

Commenting on the survey report, Rosie Hyam, People Partner at Just Eat, claims that opportunities to socialise with colleagues during the working week could also help. “Given the emphasis on employee wellbeing and work/life balance over the last few years, it’s essential that employers are receptive to flexible working arrangements, and that they allow employees to take time away from work when needed,” she says.

“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.”

One thing is for certain: to ensure the UK gets back on track towards economic recovery, business leaders will need to do more than show off their wellbeing credentials; they’ll need to physically demonstrate their commitment and change business practices for the better. The alternative will be to endure further staffing turmoil in the future – and nobody wants that.