Contributed by Leanne Faraday-Brash
I've heard us referred to as "the lucky country", the "leisure country" and even the "lazy country.” So why might employees be reluctant to take holidays? This matters if we consider the impost on the balance sheet when staff stockpiles annual and long service leave and the toll it may take on staff due to the risk of staleness or burnout.
1. Commitment/conscientiousness. Staff love their jobs due to the inherent meaning in the work (e.g. Child Protection with DHS), or the company they work for (e.g. Apple or Google) or their colleagues (a close knit footy team.)
2. Control. We all probably know the staff member who has only one way of doing things and may be critical of others who they're sure will only mess things up. Sometimes this fear is real but some suffer from "delusional indispensability."
3. Culture. All sorts of cultural norms and project pressures can be exerted on staff to keep coming to work. Leaders can be disapproving of staff that have a life outside work (or want one.) The feeling that staff will be labelled ‘uncommitted’ or given the cold shoulder after returning from leave can serve as a disincentive to request time off. If staffing is lean, staff can dread going away; only to return to everything they left in the in-tray. And of course if they're allowed to bank almost unlimited amounts of flexitime, why take leave? Better to save it for overseas trips or resignation payouts.
4. Corruption. It is well known in internal auditing circles that staff engaging in unethical or potentially unlawful practice may feel too exposed taking leave for fear of what may be found on their system, at their desk, in the phone calls taken by others and in the payments and paperwork that come in. Significant may be the detection of real pushback and obvious anxiety about taking leave. Some of my clients stipulate that staff must take leave in minimum two week blocks. This is usually a specific anti-fraud strategy, not an enforced work-life balance initiative!
5. Conflict. Sadly home is not always where the heart is, nor is it a refuge from the stresses and responsibilities of work. Some staff engage in avoidance or busy-ness when living in dissatisfying or conflict-laden relationships with partners and/or children and genuinely demanding or allegedly 'busy' jobs can provide the pretext for long working days and short or no holidays. Meaningful and challenging work can meet the needs of the adrenalin junkie and affiliation at work can compensate for loneliness or lack of nourishment in people's private lives.
The perfect balance is having highly engaged staff who work hard when they're there, relish their time away and come back refreshed and happy to be back.
Leanne Faraday-Brash is an organisational psychologist and principal of Brash Consulting. She is the author of Vulture Cultures: How to stop them ravaging your performance, people, profit and public image, released this month through Australian Academic Press. She can be reached at www.brashconsulting.com.au or www.vulturecultures.com