HR · 23 April 2020

How to deal with staff holiday and presenteeism during COVID-19

How to create a staff training plan

Steve Arnold, CEO of absence management platform, e-days, gives small businesses advice on dealing with staff holiday rights and work expectations during lockdown….

With most of us consigned to working from home for the foreseeable future, it can be all too easy to fall into dangerous working habits which will have long-term ramifications.

While we should celebrate the fact that our increased connectivity means many businesses have been able to offer near-seamless continuity for their customers and staff, those same businesses need to be aware of potential pitfalls for their employees? wellbeing at this time.

On the 27th March, the Government announced that key workers, who have not taken all their statutory annual leave, will now be allowed to carry it over into the next two leave years.

It states that employees can carry over up to four weeks of unused leave. This allows staff to continue working during the outbreak in an effort to combat coronavirus, without the worry of losing their annual leave.I believe that the new ruling should be commended, but there are many elements of a seemingly simple announcement to consider, and it creates an interesting conundrum for UK businesses.

Leave left untaken

None is more pressing than the old foe of presenteeism. Weve seen a huge number of cancelled holidays on the e-days system in the last couple of weeks, and this has two major ramifications.

In the short term, people are cancelling much-needed leave and putting themselves at risk of burnout. Obviously with no immediate prospect of being able to leave the house too much, let alone jet off for some sun, sea and sand, a lot of people want to make the most of their leave and re-organise for another time. In fact, more than 9000 holidays were cancelled in the month of March according to the latest e-days data.

Businesses should encourage individuals to spread their annual leave throughout the year as research shows failure to do so will result in employee burnout which has a direct impact on mental health. Encouraging your employees to take a break can reduce the risk of employee burnout.

The second ramification is less pressing now, but could catch a lot of companies out in, say, August, when restrictions on freedom of movement may have been lifted. Already a peak holiday period, companies risk being inundated with fresh requests from potentially very large workforces all at once, leaving them with potentially no workers on hand at a busy time for everyone.

A company with 250 staff will process approximately 4000 requests and approvals for annual leave per year. With the extra leave entitlement following the new carry-over ruling, these requests could be increased by up to 50%.

The importance of’switching off’

Professor Stephen Wood from the university of Leicester recently wrote to the Guardian raising some interesting points on research he had conducted on the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Based on the Government’s workplace employment relations survey of the time, the research showed that;

presenteeism increased as a consequence of job insecurity, as employees wished to appear committed to their jobs. And trust in management, not just in the Government, is crucial. The research also showed that actions taken by management increased distrust in a way that also led to presenteeism.



Steve Arnold is the current chief executive office of e-days, the global absence management platform which provides mid-market and large-scale companies with an effective answer to complex HR issues around staff leave. e-days lets companies have more detailed and actionable insight into absence trends across the workforce, so as to better support employees in terms of wellbeing and productivity. Steve previously studied Law and Marketing at university before going on to complete an MBA at Warwick Business School. He then made the decision to move into the complex and rapidly-developing world of absence management in 2008.