Managing employee holiday expectations this summer

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Health Assured team

25 June 2021

Summer is just around the corner – the most popular time of year for annual leave requests.

Annual leave is essential in reducing stress levels and preventing burnout. And it’s not just the employee who benefits - this also helps prevent financial losses for employers.

17.9 million working days in the UK were lost to occupational stress, depression, or anxiety in 2019-20.

A well-rested and relaxed workforce improves productivity, motivation and creativity and reduces stress and sick leave – each of which is essential for staff retention and overall wellbeing.

However, for the second year in a row, managing the holiday expectations of your staff won’t be simple.

Many businesses are now faced with two equally frustrating problems:

  • Employees who have booked holidays abroad who risk post-holiday isolation.
  • Employees who are stockpiling their annual leave for a safer time which could lead to too many staff members trying to book time off in autumn and winter.

Neither is an ideal situation for your business - which is why it’s vital to be vocal about your businesses holiday expectations early on.

We’re going to talk through best practice for both situations, each of which your business is likely to experience over the coming weeks.

Employees with holidays booked abroad

Travelling abroad is currently under a traffic light system – green, amber and red.

Green countries are safe to visit and require no self-isolation period following your return. Red countries are completely off-limits for UK citizens. Amber countries, however, is where things can get tricky.

If you visit an amber country, a 10-day isolation period is required upon your return. So, if your employee has two-weeks annual leave booked off to visit an amber-level country – this could mean they’d be away from work for nearly a month.

In this situation, employers have a few options:

  • Ask your staff to use their annual leave allowance to cover the trip and self-isolation period. This would mean allowing staff to use a big chunk of their allowance in one hit.
  • Allow staff to keep annual leave for the trip but ask them to take unpaid leave to cover the self-isolation period.
  • Grant time off for the trip and allow your employee to work from home during the self-isolation period.
  • Deny the holiday request on the basis your business will struggle i.e. you don’t have enough staff to cover their additional leave.

It is important to look at each leave request on a case-by-case basis. Not everyone will be travelling abroad for recreational purposes and might be travelling for a more serious reason such as to attend a funeral or care for a sick relative.

Employees with holiday plans to visit green-listed countries are still not in the clear. It is a very real possibility that their country of choice could be moved to amber whilst they’re away.

To avoid confusion about protocols if this scenario presents itself, you should define your companies’ policies regarding this situation as quickly as possible.

Before your staff head abroad for some well-earned rest, make sure you present their options should their country move to the amber list. Options could include:

  • Working from home during their self-isolation period.
  • Taking unpaid leave to cover their self-isolation period.
  • Booking extra leaving to cover their self-isolation period.

Ensuring that your company policy for overseas holidays is clear to all your employees will ensure that there is no confusion or upset from employees in the worst-case scenario.

Employees who aren’t booking holiday leave

Employees who are not booking any holiday leave at all can be just as risky for your business.

In normal circumstances, your employees would spread their leave evenly throughout the year.

However, with COVID-19 still causing holiday disruptions, many people are choosing to save their holiday leave until later in the year with the hopes of restrictions being lessened and more holiday destinations being available.

A build-up of unused holidays could mean a lot of leave is taken in the autumn and winter leaving your business under-staffed or even worse – holiday leave rolled over to next year, causing a bigger build up in 2022.

Employers can book leave on behalf of all staff, so if you’re concerned that your staff aren’t booking enough leave, you can technically step in on their behalf.

All that is required is providing double the notice of the holiday period you need them to take. So, if you need an employee to take three days off, you should provide at least six days’ notice prior to the leave.

Of course, forcing staff to take holiday should only be a last resort and could lead to morale and relationships issues with your staff. Instead, you should encourage your employees to book leave throughout the year and highlight the many mental health benefits of taking time off.


Remaining as flexible as possible to allow staff to taking their holiday leave is the best option for your business and will promote a good working relationship, improve morale, and contribute to employee wellbeing.

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