The retention of leave indicates a broken business

The Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ACCI) has released a statement that discusses the economic and personal costs of presenteeism in relation to Australia’s new National Employment Standards.

In the statement the ACCI mentions:

“…the colossal national stockpile of annual leave and its toxic impact on the wellbeing of business and employees.”

“It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes or even Dr Watson to deduce that employees who take their annual leave are far less likely to take a ‘sickie’ due to fatigue or illness.”

The statistics quoted by ACCI include:

  • 123 million days stockpiled nationally.
  • $33.3 billion value to national leave stockpile.
  • 73% of national leave stockpilers are likely to be managers and earn more than $70K per annum.
  • 71% of leave stockpilers nationally are likely to be male.
  • 73% of leave stockpilers consider work/life balance to be important to their lives.
  • 70% of leave stockpilers consider taking leave to be a good way to achieve work/life balance.

It is not unreasonable to assert that the excessive retention of leave by an individual is an indication that that person does not understand that annual leave is an important element of their own mental health and safety at work.

If an executive believes they are indispensable to the company then that executive is making poor OHS decisions that flow to other employees.  Just as positive change can come from the senior management so can unhealthy work practices.  The retention of leave is just such a practice.

In a broader corporate and management context, the retention of excessive leave is an indication of a poorly managed business.  Leave, and its mental health benefits, should be integrated into the operational business strategy.  No one should be indispensable in a work role, although it is acknowledged that Plan B’s are not always as effective as Plan A’s.

Business continuity and risk management demand that contingencies be put in place for prolonged absences, or short leave breaks.

ACCI has to be admired for bringing the retention of leave to the attention of its members but the release is principally an information leaflet for a government tourism website.  Being physically absent from work is very different from being mentally absent from work.

To achieve a proper break from work, contact with the workplace and clients must be severed.  Even in this situation it may take several days to break out of “work mode”, to stop reaching for the mobile phone, to stop worrying about whether a work task is being done and to start the process of relaxing.

A “good” workplace, a “workplace of choice”, should have work management structures in place to allow its employees to recuperate from the pressures of work.  This is beyond flexible work structures and needs a business to thoroughly understand the mental health needs of its workers and business continuity.

Kevin Jones

The original research data for the figures above has been located and is available elsewhere on SafetyAtWorkBlog

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