© Chris Tosic

Brexit and UK politics are uppermost in clients’ minds, says Jonathan Maude, employment and labour partner at the London office of Vedder Price, the law firm. But at a recent meeting to discover their most pressing concerns, one worry came up repeatedly — how to persuade employees to go on holiday.

Workers, he says, are opting to stay at their desks and are keen to prove they are indispensable. “Employees who feel less secure in their jobs may worry that their employer will cope too well during their absence and recognise that they are not needed,” says Mr Maude. In doing so, they are causing problems for their own health and for managers trying to avoid burnout in their teams.

As Europe and the US approach the summer holiday season, line managers may discover employees have failed to plan for and book time off.

Jill Miller, policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says workers fall into three camps: those who space their holiday allowance throughout the year; those who front-load and use it all up early, and those who fail to take holiday and end up with four weeks left when November rolls around.

This “bunching” penalises everyone: employees are forced to use or lose holiday entitlement, unless employers defer the problem by rolling allowances into the following year.

So how do employers persuade nervous employees to take their full entitlement of leave, and on time?

Nick Goldberg, UK & Ireland chief executive of Lee Hecht Harrison, the outplacement firm, says he has stopped employees carrying their leave to the next year. Line managers receive a regular email updating them on their teams’ planned holidays, flagging up stragglers.

Company culture is critical. Managers must support staff taking time off, making sure that there is adequate cover, or at least someone who will be a point of contact in their place. Gavin Mee, senior vice-president and head of UK at Salesforce, the cloud computing company, says: “I always make sure there’s a designated stand-in so contacts know a week in advance that the individual is going on holiday and who [to call].”

Ms Miller says staff must be certain that their time away from the office will not be criticised. “Otherwise we could face the situation of either people feeling always switched on while they are on holiday, and feeling they need to still be picking up emails,” she says. Or “leaveism”, which means workers taking leave only to get work done, or being pleased when a bank holiday rolls around so they can catch up on work.

John Lees, careers expert and author of How to Get a Job You Love, says too often employers press employees’ guilt buttons — “you really ought to take time off” — while at the same time expecting high productivity. This sends conflicting messages.

A better approach, he says, is to make holiday part of personal development. “A clear psychological contract exists where the individual takes responsibility for their own learning. [That] can be one element of a positive appraisal and pay rise. ‘Taking care of yourself’ could be dealt with in a similar way.”

Katie Burke, chief people officer at HubSpot, the tech marketing company based in Boston, Massachusetts, agrees: “People have to talk about holiday as a business imperative.

“They usually talk about it as being good for your soul. We’ve got to be better at talking about it in the business context, in terms of it being about care for employees.”

Holidays for managers can also mean an opportunity for their deputies to shine, she points out.

The company has a generous holiday policy — like Netflix and Virgin’s head office, it offers unlimited paid time off, meaning staff can take as many days as they like, as long as work is delivered on time and is co-ordinated with the rest of the team.

In addition, HubSpot offers a month-long sabbatical every five years with $5,000 spending money. Employees are invited to submit a write-up of their holiday and the winner is given a gift-card.

This encourages a culture, she says, where staff see holiday as part of working life rather than a guilty secret. Company-wide reports have encouraged time off by highlighting individual holidays, including one by someone who used the time to attend Justin Timberlake concerts.

Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan on sabbatical, hugging a tree in California. PR photo
Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, hugs a tree in California to let everyone know he was on his sabbatical

The company has addressed concerns from its sales department that taking holiday means it misses targets. So twice a year “quota relief” is permitted, which in effect means there is some slack in the system and staff are encouraged to take a break.

Leading by example is important, too, says Ms Burke. “Everyone talks way too much about holiday policy — it’s about leadership at the top.”

So when the chief executive, Brian Halligan, took a sabbatical, he was sure everyone knew, by posting a picture of himself wrapping his arms around a tree in California on Instagram.

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