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Should Employers Allow Staff to Carry Over Annual Leave?

COVID-19 Sparks Debate in the Face of an Annual Leave Backlog

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With most of the world forced into unanticipated lockdowns throughout 2020-21, employees had no choice but to wave goodbye to their holidays abroad and their quality time with loved ones. Instead, we became trapped in our all-too-familiar routines without many reasons to request some well-deserved annual leave. Why request annual leave when all you can do is binge another Netflix series and devour the entire contents of the fridge?

Feet up Watching Netflix


According to a study by YouGov, it appears many of us had the same thought process. In late November 2020, YouGov’s survey results revealed ‘a quarter of workers had “much more” annual leave left than this time last year, averaging 17 days still to take at a time when there were only 27 working days left in the year.’

Many admitted to delaying their annual leave in the hope they could book a Covid-free holiday later in the year. However, reality kicked in as much of the world remains in a similar position nine months later.

In 2020, some countries introduced laws allowing employees to carry over annual leave into the following year. The rule applies to any holiday the employee does not take due to COVID-19.  While carrying over annual leave coincides with the importance of taking a break for mental health, some employers and professionals argue that this rule could negatively impact the functionality of the business and may result in further employee stress and burnout.

To explore the argument further, we spoke with two people on opposite sides of the debate.

The argument for carrying over leave

Having been confined to our own homes for the best part of the past year and a half, I believe employers should allow their staff to carry over annual leave into the following year. The circumstances of COVID-19 were unprecedented for all of us. Unfortunately, the situation was unavoidable, and employees should not have to give up their cherished time with loved ones due to restrictions that were out of their hands.

If employees were to have taken time off amidst the pandemic, they would only have been staring at the same four walls with limited outlets to relieve stress.

With so much in the media around the importance of taking a break for your mental wellbeing, I can’t comprehend how employers can look past the burnout and fatigue that so many of their employees are feeling after such a stressful year.

In my opinion, having that time to recover both mentally and physically will boost productivity and benefit the business in the long run. It demonstrates that employers genuinely care for the wellbeing of their employees and encourages people to work hard in return.

By giving employees the option to carry over their holiday, workers will feel more inclined to continue working at their organisation – with peace of mind knowing that their welfare is considered a priority. It would not only increase staff retention, but also improve the overall work culture of the business.


The argument against carrying over leave

The pandemic has made taking time off both unappealing and difficult for workers around the world. After all, why take annual leave when your holiday will be confined to the same environment as your working life. Despite this, I believe carrying over annual leave is not the answer. While the system sounds simple enough, it will quickly become impractical and can result in bigger issues down the line.

Offering to carry over leave will act as motivation for employees to resist taking a break – whether intended this way or not. It has been hard to take a break during a pandemic year that has encouraged us to be constantly on at work, but this is exactly why it is more important than ever to take some time to ourselves. Companies should encourage their employees to take breaks and take their time off now rather than later – creating a company culture that values a work-life balance.

Carrying over leave will also inevitably lead to staff shortages at work as employees take more time off. This will pass the burden on to those who are not on annual leave and risks breeding workplace resentment and stress. At some point along the line, HR will have to step in and create company rules and procedures to ensure staff are not crossing over with their excess annual leave.

It also causes difficulties for external communications and can quickly become impractical for some companies. Work pace will slow, and responses to external personnel will become delayed as fewer staff will be available, inevitably impacting others beyond the company.

Looking Ahead

Despite the huge debate over annual leave carryover, laws and regulations are consistently changing across the globe. With minimal signs of the pandemic shifting, the argument continues as we face another year of cancelled holidays and uncertainty. Is allowing employees to carry over annual leave putting their mental well-being first? Or will carrying over annual leave just cause greater stress and lower team productivity levels?

Let us know what you think! Join the conversation over onTwitter and LinkedIn.