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1 in 4 UK employees did not take full holiday allowance in 2015

  • Staffing issues and feeling guilty or discouraged from taking time off halt holiday plans
  • One in five (20%) employees have used annual leave while off sick
  • Just 12% of workers say employee health and wellbeing is top priority in their organisation
  • Nearly half (48%) of employees are not aware of any workplace support for sickness absence, up from 37% in 2015

Almost one in four (23%) employees did not take their full holiday allowance last year, new research from Canada Life Group Insurance shows, as staffing issues and a sense of guilt around taking time off prevent staff from enjoying their full entitlement.

This worrying trend – which suggests staff lack a healthy work/life balance – has been sustained for the past two years, with similar levels of employees not taking all of their time off in 2014 and 2015. At the same time, nine in ten (90%) employees have admitted to coming into work when unwell as presenteeism continues to plague the UK workforce.

The most common reason employees did not use all of their holiday allowance was because they carried some of it into the next year (34%, up from 31% in 2015). However, with 14% being prevented from taking time off because of staffing issues and 11% feeling guilty or discouraged from taking a holiday, staff could be being pressured to carry holiday forward rather than choosing to do so.

One in six (16%) employees did not plan their time off and therefore ran out of opportunities, demonstrating the importance of prioritising a healthy balance between work and personal time.

I carried some of my holiday allowance forward 34%
I didn't need to take the full allowance 27%
I didn't plan my time off and ran out of opportunities 16%
Staffing issues, e.g. maternity leave, members of staff leaving 13%
I felt guilty about taking my full holiday allowance / taking time off is discouraged in my organisation 11%

Table 1 Most common reasons employees did not take their full holiday entitlement in 2015

Employees use annual leave to protect sickness record
In addition to not taking all of their time off, one in five (20%) employees have used annual leave while off sick to avoid a poor sickness record or falling foul of their organisation’s sickness absence policy. An additional 13% have not done this yet, but would be tempted to do so, while 12% were not aware it was an option.

Staff could be sacrificing their annual leave instead of taking sickness absence because they do not feel their employer places enough importance on employee health and wellbeing. Only 12% of workers say employee health and welling is the top priority in their organisation, although this is an increase of four percentage points since last year, suggesting a gradual improvement in employer communications about health.

A third of employees (33%) believe cost efficiency is prioritised above staff health, while more than one in five (21%) say the same of employee output in relation to business profits.

Staff more aware of Employee Assistance Programmes
A higher proportion of staff indicated they have an Employee Assistance Programme that can provide workplace support for sickness absence (11%) compared to last year (8%), either due to improved employer communications or an increased take-up of this service. One in five (20%) would speak to a designated member of staff about their options if they became ill for an extended period of time.

However, nearly half of employees (48%) are not aware of any form of workplace support for sickness absence in their organisation – up from 37% in 2015 – and 13% say this definitely isn’t provided. Failing to support those on long-term sickness absence could delay or prevent a return to work.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director of Canada Life Group, comments:
“Annual leave is a key part of establishing a healthy work/life balance, as staff who don’t take breaks are prone to stress, burnout and ultimately lower productivity. Employers must ensure their organisation has a positive stance to taking time off and reassuring employees they are free to take their full entitlement is key. Failure to do so could result in higher staff turnover and leave businesses at a significant disadvantage in the battle to recruit and retain top talent.

“With UK productivity levels 17% below the average of G7/developed countries, employers urgently need to address this discrepancy. It has been suggested that improving employee engagement and health and wellbeing may have a direct positive impact on productivity. Employee Assistance Programmes are a valuable tool in supporting both work and life balance and are included within our Group Income Protection policies (covering both insured and non-insured employees). With employee health heading up the corporate agenda – and of growing concern to government, who currently face an annual bill for State disability benefits of £36bn – businesses need to ensure they have a clear strategy to improve wellbeing and prevent staff burnout.”


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Canada Life Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Canada Life International Limited and CLI Institutional Limited are Isle of Man registered companies authorised and regulated by the Isle of Man Financial Services Authority.

Canada Life International Assurance (Ireland) DAC is authorised and regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

Stonehaven UK Limited and MGM Advantage Life Limited, trading as Canada Life, are subsidiaries of The Canada Life Group (U.K.) Limited. Stonehaven UK Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. MGM Advantage Life Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.