No Leave No Life – Issue 55

My mother used to give us the line about the
starving children in India when we didn’t finish our
food, suggesting how delighted they would be with
the corned beef hash she was trying to slip us for
dinner. Years later an Indian colleague told us to
pass unwanted cookies and chips his way at our team
lunches, claiming he was that starving Indian kid your
mother told you about.

Hardly.

This guy had been educated in British boarding
schools and then sent to the US for university. I
once joked that the closest he ever got to India’s
downtrodden was when he rolled down the tinted
window of the limo to buy a chai!

The point is, our perceptions of life are relative to
our conditions. In the last issue of Futures Ramblings
I said that I was so busy I didn’t have time to scratch
myself. That was a bit insensitive because I send
this to people I went to university with and past
colleagues I worked with in the US. One put me in my
place by writing “It might be seen as a little off colour,
but I’d scratch youself for the right money, or pick up
some of your workload so you can scratch yourself
on your own”.

It was this comment that made me realise how
good we have it here compared to other places,
particularly the US where unemployment and debt
continue to grow. They may not call it the second
great depression, but for those not working it would
sure feel that way.

People are so disgruntled in America they are
resorting to insane measures like voting for that Tea
Party nut job Christine O’Donnell; she makes Sarah
Palin look like a Rhodes Scholar.

It is human nature to evaluate the state of the world
based on your own perspective. Knowing others have
it much worse is cold comfort when your day-to-day
reality is a challenge.

Sure you could be one of those guys whose surfing
holiday to the Mentawai Islands got interrupted with a
7.5 magnitude undersea quake and then a tsunami,
or be a Chilean coal miner, but you aren’t. You’re just
one of the overworked Aussies who are feeling a little
worse for wear these days.
Everyone I have spoken to feels overworked, over
tired and overwhelmed. Maybe we’re a bunch of cry
baby whiners, but the anticipation for the Christmas
holiday is palpable. It feels as if a collective bubble is
ready to burst.

The big surprise is that
even though everyone is
tired as an old boot, many
Australians will not take time
off, even if their employers
tell them they have to.

And believe me, employers do want their people to
take time off, particularly those that have accrued a
large amount of leave.

This isn’t driven by a focus on being an ‘employer of
choice’ or by the wellbeing of their employees, it’s
because the bank doesn’t want them carrying the
debt of long service leave on their books. It appears
that the banks have plenty to worry about if you
believe the findings of the No Leave No Life research.
Australia has 123 million days of accrued annual
leave by full time employees. This equates to $33.3
billion in wages sitting on company books.

The research sponsored by Tourism Australia was
intended to study annual leave accrual. They have
been tracking leave accrual since 2005 and found
that 1 in 4 Australians are ‘leave stockpilers’. How do
you know if you’re one?

The following are a few of the tell tale signs:
_you have more than 25 days of leave accrued
_you consider work/life balance to be important, but
clearly don’t practice what you preach
_you believe that annual leave positively impacts
work/life balance
_you’re not to sure your employer supports you going
on leave
_you are most likely a male older than 35
_you manage others
_you are parents of school aged or older children
_you are long serving at your place of employment
_you are a high income earner

The research applies to people employed full-time and
excludes owner operated businesses. It also identifies
leave as going away from home and spending time
and money.

This proves once and for all something I have been
telling my husband and kids; doing seven loads
of laundry, cleaning and cooking should not be
considered relaxing down time from my other full-time
job.

According to the research, people stockpile for a
number of reasons. First off only 56% believe their
employer supports them taking leave, which in itself
is quite shocking. Other explanations for stockpiling
have nothing to do with the company.

The most common reasons
for stockpiling are fitting in
a holiday around a partner’s
schedule, finding money
to pay for that holiday, or
feeling the need to save for a
rainy day.

Beyond that it’s our own fault we don’t take leave. The
reasons for this go back to weird beliefs and attitudes
many of us have.

The research identifies four active stockpiler
personality categories, which if you’re not careful, you
may find yourself in:
01. The ‘dreamers’ and ‘planners’ who are holding out
for the big trip, or saving for something really great
02. The martyrs who think no one could possibly do
their job as well as they do; their job is their identity
03. The workacholics who have so much going on
they can’t prioritise taking leave
04. The victims who feel if they do go away things will
just pile up in their absence and blame management
for not supporting them

Unfortunately today there is also an insecurity factor
at play.

Many employees are understandably fearful of losing
their jobs and see built up leave as protection against
redundancy.

Others have taken on depression like behaviour, like
your Nan who folded up used tin foil for reuse. They
don’t speak up, they arrive for work on time, they
don’t ask for a raise and they sure don’t ask for time
off work. Staying quiet ensures you’re under the
radar.

In fact the research indicates annual leave accrued
by Australian workers grew by 11% in the past 18
months, which flies in the face of what we have heard
about companies asking employees to take leave
rather than face redundancy.

The amount of time we get off work is not excessive
by any means. Australian workers in the private
sector generally get 20 days of paid holiday a year.
Being from America I think that is a lot. We only got
15, which is only marginally better than the 10 days
a year you would get if you lived in China. In other
places like Finland, Brazil and France employees are
entitled to 30 days of holiday a year.

In some countries like Denmark and Switzerland they
deter stockpiling by insisting leave entitlements are
taken annually.

Still, there are more factors at play than our odd
idiosyncratic behaviours and the recession.

Social and world trends have
influenced the amount of
time we are able to spend
away from work; our current
lifestyles make it practically
impossible to take a family
vacation.

With the cost of living here in Australia, it is common
for both partners in a household to work, creating
scheduling nightmares. Anyone who has tried to plan
a simple family meal around work, school, sports and
social activities would understand this dilemma.

I used to think my kids made excuses for not having
time to go on holiday with us, hard to believe I know.
Now that they have discovered that Mom and Dad
can’t stay up past 7:30pm after a day of sightseeing,
leaving them unfettered access to the minibar, they
always want to come along.

Work itself has also intensified. We live in a 24/7
work culture where instantaneous responses are
expected, you’re considered a slacker for not
returning calls minutes after they’re received and
being home in the shower is no excuse.

lives has made it impossible for any aspect of our
lives to be off limits.

We have relinquished the importance of down time by
providing our mobile numbers to business partners
and clients. This has been exacerbated during the
GFC with overly eager employees demonstrating a
gun ho attitude and desire to work.

In addition, flexible working hours have been
misconstrued as an invitation to call anytime the
caller chooses. Clearly they believe the flexibility part
is for them, not you.

On the other hand, there are those who have their
mobile phone with them every second and it’s
always on. They must think it is a moniker of their
importance.

It is hard to believe that people who switch their
mobiles on as soon as the plane touches down or
the ones who don’t have the decency to turn off
their phone in a meeting are so critical to the earth
continuing to turn.

I know people that aren’t doing anything that
important, and still do this. I must admit I have great
difficulty with the message this sends – you and this
meeting are not as important as my Facebook page.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe some of them are
moonlighting as brain surgeons and are waiting on
lifesaving test results.

Jokes aside, stockpiling is a social issue that must
be addressed and there is no better time than the
present. We would all benefit from a little R&R – it
makes us healthier and allows you to reconnect with
family and friends.

So guys get a life already and put in your Christmas
leave form.

It goes without saying that not taking leave is bad
for you and it is bad for companies. The impact of
stockpiling goes beyond the trouble it causes with the
books.

People who are burnt out
can make mistakes, have
accidents, be in poor health
and get down right grumpy.

There is also the negative effect of ‘presenteeism’ or
not having your mind in the game – the ‘lights are on
nobody home’ syndrome. If you’re specifying carpet
there could be an issue, if your job is landing planes it
could be a real problem!

Markus Groth a professor at the Australian School
of Business believes that companies should address
stockpiling with better communication. Citing
problematic policies and poor management as a
cause, he suggests organisations seek out deterrents
and take action. They must send the message that
taking leave is allowed so employees will feel safe in
doing so.

Tourism Australia recommends employers start to
analyse the issues and understand the seriousness of
the problem as a first step and as a second step they
recommend listing out all of the stockpilers.
I’m not sure about that one. If we were to list out
stockpilers in addition to those who have not done
their timesheets, we would need to extend our
Monday morning meetings by at least half an hour.

Sources.

The Australian School of Business Knowledge website; “Leave up
Your Sleeve: Productive or Destructive?”, July 13, 2010

Kapit, Ellen; “Somewhere on a Faraway Beach, a Cellphone Rings,
a BlackBerry Buzzes, a Laptop Beeps”, The New York Times

No Leave No Life Research Findings – Tourism Australia, Jones
Donald Strategy Partners and Roy Morgan Research,
Tugend, Alina; “The Best Time to Ask for a Sabbatical Could Be
Now” The New York Times, April 10, 2009

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