December 4, 2015

The impact of Leaveism in the workplace

So, we have talked about presenteeism, the practice of employees coming into work even when sick, and how it is an increasing problem, for employees and employers. But, what about leaveism?

Leaveism is when employees use their holiday leave to work or when they are sick. It covers several areas:

– when employees use leave, be it annual leave, flexi hours banked or re-rostered rest days, as time off, rather than taking sick leave
– when employees take work home that they cannot complete in their normal working hours
– when employees work while on leave or worse still, take holiday leave specifically to catch up on work

The term leaveism was first coined in 2013 by Ian Hesketh, a doctoral researcher at Lancaster University Management School. He, in conjunction with Professor Sir Cary Cooper, 50th Anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School, has carried out research into the practice of leaveism and found that it is particularly prevalent in the public sector. Their research paper, ‘Leaveism and worklife integration: The Thinning blue line’, highlights the extent of the problem. When surveying the police service, the researchers found that 76% admitted to taking annual leave instead of phoning in sick or leaving work unfinished.

Some respondents specifically take holiday leave in order to catch up on their workload.

Cooper thinks leaveism is such a problem that talked about it at the latest CIPD annual conference and he is conducting ongoing research into the issue.

A recent survey by the Guardian Society Professionals, networks focused on the wellbeing of public and voluntary sector employees. The results of the survey, entitled Clockoff? It found that public and voluntary sector employees are working very long hours, with few breaks and high levels of stress.

Eighty five per cent of respondents said stress was a fact of life in their profession, a figure that rose to 100% for those working in probation services.

The vast majority (93%) said they are stressed at work either all, some, or a lot of the time. Of the 9% who say they are stressed all of the time at work, almost all of them said they work over their contracted hours. On average, respondents clock up an extra seven hours a week. Nearly one in five say they don’t take any break during their working day, with just under a quarter (24%) taking a main break of at least 30 minutes.

There is plenty of other research documenting the high levels of stress and the huge workloads in the public sector in particular.

In order to combat rising levels of leaveism, presenteeism and workplace stress, employers in all sectors need to make sure that employees take the leave they are entitled to and that it is leave, not a continuation of work.

Some employers do try to improve employees’ work life balance and ensure they are sending out the right messages. Take the German car company, Daimler, for example. In 2014 it introduced a new initiative whereby all of its 100,000 employees had the option to have all incoming emails automatically deleted when they were on holiday. That way they wouldn’t receive any emails that they felt compelled to answer nor would they have a huge backlog of emails on their return to work.

The emails didn’t just go into a black hole – the sender would receive notification that the mail had not been received and would be given a different person to contact.

Plenty of other organisations have also implemented measures to protect employees’ leisure time, such as blocking the arrival of work emails during evenings or weekends and asking managers not to communicate with employees about work out of their working hours.