ILM Discussion: Happy holidays

August 8, 2018

Business and finance journalist, Matt Packer discusses key news stories with the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) head of research, policy & standards, Kate Cooper.


As Britain’s summer continues to shine, research from the TUC indicates that many employees are unlikely to feel the benefits at their leisure – as they are being denied their full holiday entitlements.

According to the Union’s findings, one in 12 workers are not receiving their full holiday allocations, meaning that they are losing out on a collective £3 billion of paid leave per year. The problem is affecting 9.2% of female workers and 7.2% of their male counterparts, with the sectors in which employees are most likely to lose out emerging as agriculture (14.9%), mining and quarrying (14.7%) and accommodation and food (13.9%).

Meanwhile, the industries with the highest numbers of staff losing out are retail (348,000), education (342,000) and health and social care (291,000).

Reasons that the TUC has ascribed to the issue are:

  • workers being set unrealistic workloads that do not allow them the time to take leave;
  • employers deliberately denying holiday requests and ‘managing out’ people’s leave, and
  • employers failing to keep up to date with the law.


Preventing burnout

In a statement, the TUC said: “Minimum holiday entitlements are a vital part of reducing overwork … People who work excessive hours are at risk of developing heart disease, stress, mental illness, strokes and diabetes, which also impacts on co-workers, friends and relatives. The TUC wants HMRC to be granted new powers to clamp down on employers who deny staff their statutory holiday entitlement. This would include the power to ensure that workers are fully compensated for missed holidays.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added: “We’re now in peak holiday season. But, while many workers are away enjoying time off with friends and family, millions are missing out. And that puts them at risk of burnout. Employers have no excuse for robbing staff of their well-earned leave. UK workers put in billions of hours of unpaid overtime as it is.”


Can’t get no satisfaction

What sorts of considerations should leaders factor in to ensure that their workers are able to use the full holiday benefits to which they are entitled?

Kate Cooper explains: “As management psychologist Frederick Hertzberg identified in his research of the late 1950s, holidays are a ‘hygiene factor’: they are an important part of what causes us not to be dissatisfied with our experience as workers. So organisations must have conditions of employment in place, and holidays are a vital part of that.

“If the terms and conditions are not correctly established to take that into account, then workers will be dissatisfied. That’s separate from – yet could tarnish – any intrinsic satisfaction that they may derive from carrying out the job itself. So we have known for 60 years now about the important role that holiday time plays – not just for workers’ wellbeing, but in terms of how they view their employers, too.”

Cooper points out: “Unlike sickness or accidents, one advantage that holidays present is that they can be planned well in advance. We know how many days we’re entitled to, and we have a general idea of how they could be distributed throughout the year. A common approach that employers tend to take is requiring staff to book holidays on a first-come-first-served basis. Under that sort of policy, some members of staff can be left out of the running when they try to book for a time of the year that is already heavily subscribed – but I really don’t think that ‘getting in first’ is an adequate benchmark for planning.


Forward planning

“Employers should take a range of other factors into account, too, so they consider holidays more ‘in the round’: how do we ensure that the work that needs to be done in ‘X’ part of the year is properly covered? How do we help staff to take their breaks at even, regular intervals, so that we don’t end up in situations where they’ve hardly taken any holidays during the year and must take them all in the run up to Christmas? How do we ensure that staff feel all the types of benefits that holidays can bring?” Cooper pointed out.

“The problem with planning staff holidays, of course, is that employers tend not to consider it an urgent matter. But it becomes urgent if it hasn’t been planned for – and that’s where organisations can run into the sorts of problems that Ryanair encountered last year. I think the issue that the TUC refers to of firms ‘managing out’ leave is likely to stem from the lack of planning that I’m talking about – bosses turning down requests because they look at the schedule and think ‘We won’t be able to cope.’”

She adds: “One aspect of this issue that leaders often overlook is the opportunities that holidays provide for succession planning: if a key decision maker wants to take a break at a specific time of the year, which more junior colleague is available to step up and have a go in the role until the individual returns? Just like maternity leave or parental leave, holidays open up terrific chances for employees to broaden their experience through training. As Herzberg indicated, if you want engaged, productive and satisfied staff, then eliminating areas that could cause dissatisfaction is crucial.”


For more on these topics, listen to Episode 9 of the ILM podcast in partnership with LID Radio:



About the authors


Matt Packer

Matt Packer is a business and finance journalist who provides expert comment for organisations such as CPA Global, Inemmo Leadership Development Consultancy, The Institute of Leadership & Management and the Chartered Management Institute.



Kate CooperKate Cooper is head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM). She has appeared on BBC Television, BBC Radio 4, has a regular column in Dialogue magazine, is a key note speaker at conferences and provides expert commentary on a range of topics arising from the Institute’s research agenda.


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