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Leaveism: the hidden absence issue for UK workplaces


When you’re taking steps to monitor and manage absence in your organisation, it’s also useful to look out for other unhealthy approaches towards leave that may be harder to spot without consideration. In this article we discuss leaveism. The concept isn’t very well-known, but many employers and HR professionals may recognise it in their own cohort.

What is leaveism?

Leaveism (sometimes spelled as leavism) refers to a variety of situations where employees use their leave for work-related purposes. It comes in different forms, including:

  • Employees working outside their contracted hours (taking work home). This can include checking and responding to emails and calls etc.
  • Employees using time off work (such as annual leave, banked flexitime hours, or rest days) when they’re unwell and should be on sick leave.
  • Employees using time off work to catch up on work.

In relation to this, employees may not be taking their full leave allocation because they have too much work to do. See our blog post on encouraging staff to take annual leave to find out more about this issue.

The statistics on leaveism

According to the CIPD Health and Well-being at Work 2019 report, nearly two-thirds of their survey respondents reported observing a form of leaveism within a 12 month period.

The report concludes that “these are likely to be signs of underlying organisational issues affecting people‚Äôs health and well-being.”

Why is leaveism a problem?

Everyone has busy times when they may need to work a bit of overtime or take shorter breaks. It’s when this becomes the norm that problems arise.

Leaveism is a sign of staff being overworked, which can lead to increased levels of stress and even burnout. As one of the biggest causes of long-term absence according to the Health and Well-being at Work report, stress isn’t something employers can take lightly.

Absenteeism and presenteeism

There are concepts related to leaveism that are far more well-known: absenteeism and presenteeism. They can be basically defined as the following:

  • Absenteeism: an employee taking sickness absence when they are well enough to work.
  • Presenteeism: an employee working when they are in fact too ill to do so.

As you can see, absenteeism and presenteeism are two sides of the same coin; staff are either not working when they should be, or working when they shouldn’t be.

Leaveism is a more subtle issue that may avoid detection if you’re not looking out for it, but it’s just as important to address to ensure staff remain healthy and happy in their job.

How to address leaveism

There are ways to address leaveism in your organisation. Try the following tips:

Do line managers know the signs?

Managers are key drivers of change within an organisation; if you give them training, they can spot the signs and encourage healthier working behaviours in staff.

Review your paid sick leave policy

Do you offer a certain number of contractually paid sick days per year for staff? Having a bank of these days available may discourage employees from other types of paid leave instead when they are too ill to work. This can also discourage presenteeism.

Consider workloads and cover training

Do certain employees have high workloads and/or responsibilities nobody else can take on if they were to go on holiday? If someone always has too much work to do, or responsibilities nobody else can undertake, then fully switching off outside of work will become more difficult.

Tracking holidays with HR software

If you’re concerned about ensuring staff take all the annual leave they are entitled to, HR software can help. With a staff holiday planner, you can easily see how many days an employee has left to book and encourage staff to book their holidays throughout the year.

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