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Don’t let Leaveism thrive – Some Practical Tips to Reduce it


This year’s Health and Wellbeing at Work survey of over 1000 people professionals found that 83% of respondents had observed presenteeism.  25% of those who had observed presenteeism said the problem had worsened.  63% of respondents had seen incidents of leaveism, where employees use holiday time to catch up on work.

The CIPD refer to ‘Presenteeism’ and ‘Leaveism’ –

‘these behaviours can adversely affect employees’ health and well-being: working when ill or not taking opportunities to relax outside work may have far greater impact on employees’ long-term physical and mental health, as well as organisational productivity, than their absence ‘

Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey CIPD April 2019


Definition of Leaveism

Leaveism was defined by Dr Ian Hesketh and Professor Cary Cooper (2014) as:

  • employees utilizing allocated time off such as annual leave entitlements, flexi-hours banked, re-rostered rest days and so on, to take time off when they are in fact unwell;
  • employees taking work home that cannot be completed in normal working hours;
  • employees working while on leave or holiday to catch up

Leaveism is difficult to quantify as there may not be obvious signs that staff are feeling overwhelmed by workload in the workplace if they are completing it at home.  Sickness and absence figures are not affected by leaveism, in fact absence reducing measures can inadvertently contribute to an increase.

Employees sometimes use leaveism as a way to avoid discussing unreasonable demands with their manager, preferring it to be perceived that they are on top of their workload.  In addition, it may also be a symptom of financial pressures with employees taking annual leave to recover from illness as they are not able to afford to take time off sick.

Employees in some organisations may be acutely aware of their own absence levels, believing they are a key factor in management decisions about who to offer development opportunities to.

Rachel Suff, Senior Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD said:

‘Rates of presenteeism and leaveism, which are both linked to stress, remain stubbornly high.  Employers have a responsibility to tackle these bad habits.  They must also realise the staff are not going to perform at their best if they are working when ill or using up holiday to work rather than recharge.’


How can an organisation tackle leaveism?


  • Promote a culture of outputs rather than inputs.
  • Create awareness about what leaveism is and the negative impact it has on long term productivity including spreading the message that senior management actively discourage it.
  • Provide training for line managers to spot warning signs of leaveism and talk openly about any issues in the early stages.
  • If staff are regularly working when they should be on holiday or working beyond their normal hours, look at alternative options, delegate to others, hire more staff.
  • Encourage regular, informal team chats about workloads and capacity to help others. Consider upcoming holidays in advance and plan for these as a group.
  • If an employee has outstanding leave, encourage them to take it in plenty of time before the end of their holiday entitlement.
  •  Offer ways and means to switch off more easily digitally, e.g
    • Blocking the arrival of work emails during evenings or weekends
    • Asking managers not to communicate with employees about work outside working hours
    • Consider having out of office message which includes a redirect so that someone who is not on leave can check for items requiring action on behalf of the person who is on holiday
  • Ensure clear messages are given about the importance of time off, rest and recuperation, hobbies and interests outside of work for long term health and wellbeing.
  • Share information about what’s on at weekends locally to spread the message that you are encouraging staff to use their time off.
  • Practice what you preach.  Let everyone see that you value taking proper time off away from the organisation.


5 practical tips for employees

Although many of the reasons for leaveism relate to organisational culture, each member of staff is part of that culture and so it is worth considering what you can do as an employee:

  1. Say “no“.  Saying yes when you are already struggling to complete work ultimately increases pressure on everyone.  Share your workload and make it easier to hand over responsibility for your workload by communicating as much as possible before you take leave.
  2. Learn to trust your colleagues.  Delegate and let others help you out when you are not managing to meet deadlines.  If you are in the practice of doing this, going away for a holiday is an easier step to take.
  3. Limit how much you check emails.  This can be a gradual process, start by setting yourself a time where you stop checking work emails for the day.
  4. Plan time away from work, weekends at first if you find a 2-week holiday feels too much.
  5. Book holidays/time away and commit to them.

The importance to leaders of noticing leaveism

It can be tempting for leaders to turn a blind eye to leaveism as the short term effect for the organisation is that the work is being carried out. However, there is a negative long-term effect on employees’ health and wellbeing when they are not taking proper rest time to recover and spend time on other interests in life.  These can include; poor work life balance, employee burnout, increased mental health issues, and difficulties retaining staff.  In addition, workplace morale can decrease resulting in reduced productivity.


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