New study finds we're all scared of taking time off

Jan Vykydal

Australians are scared of taking holidays. Although the country has one of the world’s highest levels of annual leave, the Princess Cruises National Relaxation Survey – conducted by Galaxy Research – found that almost two thirds of workers suffer from a fear of taking annual leave, and use their leave for things such as family emergencies and doctors’ appointments. Here’s why this is bad for employers and employees alike.

Gen Y is lazy, right?

Gen Y really suffers. The survey, which was conducted among 1250 workers, found that 86 per cent of the group feel guilty about relaxing, and 80 per cent of Gen X workers feel the same way. More than two thirds of those surveyed conduct at least one work-related task while on holiday, and one third report that even the thought of relaxing stresses them out. How do people deal with this? They avoid taking time off.

How much time are we talking?

Roy Morgan Research has discovered that fill-time workers in Australia have a total of 123,510,000 days of annual leave accrued, which works out to an average of slightly less than 21 days per person. Men account for 69 per cent of that number, with an average of 22 days each, while the average for women is 18 days.

Workers need to try to create a ‘holiday gameplan’ to help enhance their time off.

What’s the problem?

There are problems for both employers and employees, says Harrison Human Resources. When leave is paid out, it’s paid at the current rate for that employee, not at the rate when the leave was accrued. This reduces the cost savings for companies. “Untaken annual leave is also recorded as a liability on balance sheets,” notes the HR firm. Sometimes the reason employees don’t take leave is they’re afraid that the person who fills in for them might discover poor performance or problems that the employee has been concealing. But if those problems are never discovered, they’re also never resolved.

For employees, not taking time off work can affect their wellbeing, which in turn hurts their productivity. It can also sometimes leave to potential claims for stress later on, and stress is a big problem. The Australian Psychological Society writes that younger people consistently report lower levels of wellbeing than older Australians, and that people often try to manage that stress by drinking, smoking, gambling or taking drugs.

What can you do?

Dr Suzy Green, a clinical and coaching psychologist and founder of The Positivity Institute, says people need to separate their work from their leisure time.

“Workers need to try to create a ‘holiday gameplan’ to help enhance their time off, which could include things like setting boundaries around email and phone usage,” says Green.

“These results highlight the need for Australians to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing by scheduling in annual holidays and seasonal mini-breaks to avoid FOTAL and provide a source of anticipation to buffer against stress and guilt.”

Jan Vykydal

Jan is a Sydney-based writer and editor whose work has been published in a stable of titles including the National Post, The Daily Planet and Edmonton Examiner. He is currently Editor at ShortPress.