The do’s and don’ts of annual leave

Daydreaming about holidays at work

Annual leave is precious. Even if we love our jobs, dreaming about dipping our toes into the Mediterranean with the sun on our backs or stepping onto the summit of Mount Snowdon with the wind in our hair can keep us going through a dreary January. Holidays and rest are meaningful for our mental health, reawakening our vitality and our productivity.

"Annual leave is an important part of a much bigger picture of looking after our life-work balance and of creating a positive work culture" says Anni Townend, Leadership Partner – and note how she calls it 'life-work balance' rather than 'work-life balance'.

In this blog, let's look at how to make the most of your out-of-office time and also how to manage your team's calendar to ensure annual leave fairness for all.

Spending annual leave in Sussex

2023 is a tough year financially for many, but make sure you have a break even if you can't leave home.

1. Do spread your breaks out over the 12 months

'Just one day out of life. It would be, it would be so nice' sang Madonna in the 1983 classic 'Holiday' and she was bang on that one day of holiday can make all the difference. It's fun to escape the daily grind during a random month like November, when everyone else is busy 'giving 110%' at the office. Try not to cram all your annual leave days into the summer.

2. Do start planning holidays in January

Booking your holiday in January

Why? You'll get the dates you want and can snap up the best prices.

3. Don't brag about your Barbados boutique hotel excessively

If you are a nice guy or popular person at work who follows office etiquette and avoids doling out unachievable demands, we will politely wish you a nice break on your posh holiday. Perhaps you deserve it - and we appreciate that you helped us out on that massive project or you let us work from home on Thursdays and Fridays. But don't push it. There are only so many selfies from Silver Sands we can bear to see.

Colleague sends photo of tropical holiday

4. Do make the most of Easter!

I find that our focus on May, July and August holidays can mean that the opportunity to tag annual leave onto the two Easter bank holidays can be forgotten until it's too late. The 4-day Easter weekend 2023 will fall on 7-10 April and Spring can be a fantastic time of year to explore Britain.

European city breaks can be perfect in April too – with less oppressive heat and fewer crowds. I once arrived in Rome on Easter Sunday with the kids on bargain cheap flights. The weather was gloriously bright yet cool for stepping out onto the Piazza del Popolo and the visitor attractions reopened on Easter Monday – ideal.

Talking of bank holidays – note that in 2023 there is an additional Bank Holiday on 8 May 2023 for the King's coronation.

5. Don't hog all the half-terms

Real Business puts annual leave quarrels firmly in the Top 10 of Workplace Conflict. It's really tricky when several team members have school-age children and all want to take October and May half-term off and maybe fight for the right to book the last week in July as annual leave.

Colleagues disagreeing about annual leave in school holidays

Play fair and respect colleagues' wishes. Sometimes a diversion by a manager from the first-come first-served approach to booking annual leave could be considered, if an employee missed out on their first-choice dates in the previous year, for example. If you lead a team, don't underestimate the importance an employee places on being able to holiday on their preferred dates!

In the summer holidays, have you seen how much cheaper overseas European holidays can be at the end of August in comparison to the end of July anyway? This is still the school holidays and in my opinion is a great option for families; take a look at European campsite prices and flights for example.

6. Do branch out and holiday somewhere new

Shake it up a little. If your go-to choice is the English Riviera in Devon, try Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire next year. Swap the villa in Provence for a yurt in Colorado. "A change is as good as a rest" advised your Nana.

Try a new activity and move those muscles: uncover a new passion for wild swimming, archery, night sky photography or coasteering. Exercise is brilliant for your mental health. I loved browsing the opportunities at Workaway too for an adventurous yet short working holiday in Ireland, Switzerland or Portugal without splashing much cash. Tending goats and ponies in County Kildare anyone?

Another idea – and a sustainable choice - would be the new ÖBB Nightjet trains. Travel overnight in a climate-friendly and comfortable train to beautiful destinations including Munich and Venice.

7. Do make a plan to get a rest if you're self-employed too

UK Holidays

Commit to taking some annual leave if you're self-employed too – you're a human, not a machine, and holiday is part of taking care of yourself and avoiding burnout. Plan your out-of-office time months in advance to help balance finances, client expectations and collaborative projects.

8. Do try to have one day a year without the kids

What makes your heart race and puts a grin on your face? Take a day of annual leave to finally see that band you love or taste the fabled tapas at Copita in Soho – with fellow adults. If you have kids and childcare is available, recharge your own batteries not those of the Disney Frozen Sing Along Speaker for once.

Conversely, I'm a bit judgy of people who stick their kids into a hotel holiday club all day every day. But maybe that's because my husband is a one-man entertainment-station, ex-primary school teacher and willing all-day frisbee player and sandcastle builder. So - each to their own.

9. Do try to avoid annual leave during your company's peak busy periods

Give and take on both sides.

10. Do judge whether you most need relaxation or invigoration on holiday

My previous suggestion of goat-herding can be wholeheartedly rejected if you are just… knackered. If your job and lifestyle are hectic, choose to chill out by all means.

11. Don't overspend on holidays if the money worry will then impact your wellbeing

A pricey holiday could be counter-productive if you've blown the budget and have to lose sleep about repayments.

12. Do put your out-of-office on

Man on phone to work on holiday

Your job may be a great deal more important than mine. So you won't appreciate me telling you that you absolutely must not check work emails whilst on holiday. But your brain and spirit would hugely appreciate a proper break from sales figures and patient treatment targets, so I beg you to try.

Delegate – give your colleague the trust to take the reins while you're away.

Writer at The Guardian André Spicer floats the idea that 'working on holiday is a defence mechanism'. He says that 'By hiding in our work when on holiday, we are able to ignore personal relationships, family dynamics and our own feelings. It helps us avoid facing up to the troubling prospect that we might not have a life outside work.'

And when you're back, how do you cope with the post-holiday inbox? A few companies concerned about overflowing inboxes choose a setting to actually delete all the emails that come into you while you're on holiday – quite radical! They set an OOO message such as "Dear sender. Your email was automatically deleted. I'm on vacation until x date. If your email is still relevant when I return, could I ask you to resend it to me after x date. Thank you for your understanding."

13. Don't have unrealistic expectations of family harmony on holiday

There may be times in your life where you gain more comfort from your usual working routine than from being on holiday with family. It's of course not all smooth sailing when you're on annual leave!

Squabbles and worse don't make it onto those attractive Jet2Holidays adverts but you absolutely won't be alone if there is some tension over the hire car which was towed away on your first night in Sardinia (yes, that one is mine) or the football which smashed next-door's caravan window (again, mine).

But you might just enjoy the chance to see your partner win the 'Best Hawaiian Shirt' contest at the resort and your stepdaughter experience her first skiing success on the nursery slopes. All the family sat in a row on the sea wall together at sunset in Cromer, gobbling up vinegary fish and chips, is a joy to me – and I need that refreshing break from work.

What are your holiday entitlements?

In the UK, the Working Time Regulations 1998 gave us the right to a minimum of 28 days annual leave, made up of 20 statutory days plus 8 bank holidays. If you work part-time, your annual leave will be calculated as a proportion of this. We are legally entitled to the same pay whilst on holiday as we receive if we were at work as employees.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development offers good advice to employers on managing annual leave here. The good news for employees is that they mention the research on workers receiving more than the statutory minimum of annual leave being far more positive about their jobs!

As Natural HR say, "Without holiday, we'd all be grumpy, less productive and the business would suffer as a result."

Unhappy woman at the office

Don't rely solely on holidays for your wellbeing!

Look after your wellbeing at work too: