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How to encourage employees to use their leave

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read
How To Encourage Employees To Use Their Leave

Coming through the pandemic, where travelling wasn’t an option, many employees accrued considerable leave. Now that we can finally travel again, businesses may be struggling to encourage staff to take their leave.

Having a workforce that doesn’t feel confident enough to ask for leave highlights issues in trust and comfort. James Mcilvena, LHH’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, joined The HR Leader to outline how to create a workplace where staff feel safe enough to take their leave entitlements.

“It definitely seems like both within our business and the businesses we work with, there has definitely been a huge amount of backlog of leave taken in the last six months. Now that countries have opened up to travel, people are feeling much more confident to do so,” Mr Mcilvena said.


“I think there was this pent-up demand ... I’ve heard people directly say, ‘I’m not wasting my leave if I can’t go and travel or do something that I wouldn’t normally do.’ And think back not so long ago that was even as simple as not being able to travel interstate, let alone internationally.”

While it is good to see people taking advantage of their leave, holidays aren’t the only time people should be taking work off, said Mr Mcilvena.

“What has been interesting is hearing people who did take leave and just take some time out, even if it wasn’t going anywhere extravagant, understanding the importance that meant to balance them and reset. So yes, taking leave is important.”

However, employers should avoid pressuring employees into taking time off if they don’t want to.

“It’s always a fascinating thing when you get employers that actually have forced leave or close down provisions. And I’ve not yet seen forced leave well received by employees, but of course, I understand the financial imperative for a lot of businesses, too, not to have people just continually rack up incredibly high leave balances. So that’s always a delicate balance,” explained Mr Mcilvena.

Removing the stigma affiliated with taking leave is a great way to promote a healthy workplace that doesn’t judge people for taking advantage of their entitlements.

Mr Mcilvena continued: “I definitely think there is still the prevailing mindset out there that would be a show of weakness, and it could potentially hurt career progression in future. And so, I think removing that stigma, actually showing that it’s not a weakness to actually ask for some time if you need some time.”

“And often those burnout periods come when you are in the middle of something and people feel like they don’t have any other choice. They’ll be in the middle of a program or project with really tight deadlines and deliverables, and it’s this confluence of, ‘I don’t feel like I can take leave when I need it most and that I’m indispensable.’ And so, sense checking even what support you can get, even take a day or two to refresh and get yourself out of that headspace, is incredibly important. But it starts with removing the stigma.”

Creating trust and transparency with staff will help to make them feel more comfortable and confident in taking time off.

“And then that comes to the third thing, creating a culture of safety and trust. And so, for years, a lot of industries have made safety at work and returning home at the end of the day paramount. It’s just interesting that physical safety has been prioritised for such a long period of time, whereas mental health and safety around mental health concerns and how they can be triggered by the environment within the workplace has been broadly ignored until relatively recently,” outlined Mr McIlvena.

He added: “Making time for leave, making sure there’s no stigma attached when you do, actually stick your hand up and say that you need a break. And then finally creating that culture of safety and trust.”

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full audio conversation with James Mcilvena on 6 February is below, and the original podcast article can be found here.

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Annual leave

Annual leave refers to a term of paid vacation or time off, often accruing after four weeks of work per year (pro rata for part-time employees). Only full- and part-time employees typically accumulate annual leave.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.