We’re at that time of the year where if you haven’t already, you’re likely thinking about taking some time off around the holidays to switch off from work and recover from the chaos of the last 12 months (somewhat). The thing is, not everyone likes to take advantage of annual leave – and according to recent data shared by SEEK, nearly half (46%) of Australians have more than 20 days of annual leave owing.
So, what’s getting in the way of people taking time off? I chatted with SEEK’s Resident Psychologist, Sabina Read, to get a better idea of why we’re so broadly bad at using the leave we’re owed. Here’s what she shared.
Why don’t people use their annual leave?
According to SEEK, the vast majority of Australians (75%) “acknowledge that taking breaks from work can help them feel more energised and productive at work”, but many of us struggle with the pressure of trying to move through all our tasks each day.
And while Read explained that there are loads of possible reasons behind people’s choices not to take annual leave, there are some trends that seem to have emerged.
She shared that SEEK’s research suggests one-third of Australians “haven’t been on holiday in over a year”.
“[And] when those with more than 3 weeks of unused leave were asked for the reason [they hadn’t taken annual leave], the most common responses were saving their annual leave for a yet-to-be planned holiday (39%) and feeling like they haven’t had the opportunity to take annual leave (29%),” Read said over email.
Looking at that last point, in particular, Read shared that one clear trend is that many Aussies feel that their workplaces are not “set up for multiple people to take annual leave at the same time”.
“Understandably, this would influence people’s decisions to take a break and may lead to hesitancy to book in leave in case it increases their own workload, or their colleagues’ workload, or is perceived as letting down the team,” Read continued.
Additionally, the impact of the past two years can’t be ignored either, Read highlighted. Travel restrictions mean that some are simply out of the habit of planning trips, and then there’s also the current cost of travel set against the backdrop of the rising cost of living.
According to SEEK, some 60 per cent of surveyed Aussies reported that “it is more effort to take a holiday now than pre-COVID, with greater planning and often expenses involved”.
How to get better at planning breaks
When you consider all the above, it’s not really difficult to see why so many people are holding off on taking annual leave. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be putting more effort into taking a time out.
To help somewhat, Read shared her top tips on getting better and taking advantage of annual leave where possible.
1. Remember the power of the micro-break:
Although longer holidays are dreamt of by many of us, frequent and short breaks, such as an extra long weekend, can provide valuable opportunities to recharge our batteries. If you’re always aiming for a big break, you may find yourself falling into a trap of not being able to find the “perfect” time to book annual leave in, and then you never take a break!
2. Get annual leave in early:
When the pace of life feels overwhelming, it can be too easy to put scheduling annual leave into the ‘too hard basket’. However, planning your break a few months in advance can give you something to look forward to, may help in securing great deals, and also gives your employer and colleagues more notice of your time off so everyone feels supported and can plan accordingly.
3. Don’t forget the perks of something to look forward to:
Booking a holiday and the anticipation of having something to look forward to can increase happiness even before the holiday begins. Simply thinking about something positive like an upcoming trip or break from work can shift our mood both at work, and at home.
4. Use your workday breaks wisely:
If the prospect of planning a holiday is daunting, don’t underestimate the power of your lunch break or your commute to tick things off your list. Break down your holiday planning tasks into bite-size chunks and work on them gradually to ensure you savour the anticipatory excitement a vacation brings and feel ready to immerse yourself with gusto and/or relaxation when your holiday finally arrives.
Overall, the main thing to keep in mind here is that there is no work task more important than your health. And so it pays to prioritise time for recovery. As Read put it, “resting the mind and body is vital for wellbeing – time out can mitigate burnout, reduce chronic stress and facilitate a reduction in anxiety”.
So, the next time you find yourself thinking you “can’t” afford to use a little annual leave (even if just for a low-cost staycation), really ask yourself if you can afford not to.
Note that SEEK shares data referred to here has been calculated using a combination of 2022 ABS data and results from Octopus Group survey of 1,949 Australians commissioned by SEEK in September, 2022.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.
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