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4 in 10 would take unpaid leave to get more time off

New research shows Brits are increasingly willing to take measures to achieve better work-life balance, as over 4 in 10 (43%) of UK employees would take unpaid leave to get more time off – the second highest amount of all European countries surveyed after Sweden.

The research from European HR and Payroll solutions provider, SD Worx, found that while Brits want to prioritise taking time off, the struggle is disconnecting from the working world. Findings show that almost a third (32%) of UK employees check their work while they should be offline, and 34% say that it’s difficult to let go of workload when on holiday.

The new research also shows the UK could be filled with ‘workaholics’. When British employees were asked about the amount of time off they think they need to recharge their batteries, respondents say 8.5 days on average. This is the shortest of all European workers surveyed, showing that even taking a week away from the office to disconnect can leave someone refreshed on their return.

The research also found UK employees like routine when it comes to holidays, with 34% preferring to take time off during the same periods each year.

When it comes to booking time off, despite increasing digitalisation in the workplace, surprisingly only slightly more than half (52%) of European survey respondents said they could easily request leave via their desktop, and even less (38%) via their smartphone.

UK employees also said they have to book time off around 27 days in advance – the lower end of the European spectrum compared to countries like Germany (75 days), Spain (61 days) and the Netherlands (55 days) who must really plan ahead of time.

“People work to live, not live to work, and that’s why it’s so important businesses create a culture where personal time and annual leave is respected, and team members are encouraged to completely disconnect,” said Colette Philp UK HR Country Lead at SD Worx.

“This type of culture shows a company prioritises individual wellbeing, and it can help prevent staff burnout in the lead up to a break and limit any anxious feeling about returning to work after. Instead, it helps team members ensure they take essential time off to re-set, and that they come back refreshed, re-energised, and ultimately more productive.”

Two-thirds of employers feel a greater responsibility for the mental wellbeing of staff

According to research from GRiD, the industry body for the group risk protection sector, employers feel a greater responsibility for supporting staff across the four key areas of mental, physical, social, and financial wellbeing as a result of Covid-19.

In research conducted from 14 – 26 January 2022 amongst 501 HR decision-makers, due to the pandemic:

  • 59% of employers felt an increased responsibility for supporting the mental wellbeing of staff
  • 57% felt the same increased responsibility for physical wellbeing
  • 56% of employers felt an increased responsibility for supporting the social wellbeing of staff
  • and 50% also felt the same increased responsibility for their employees’ financial wellbeing

In light of the pandemic, and this sentiment to take greater responsibility for employee wellbeing, two fifths (40%) of employers increased their communication about the support available to staff. Thirty-four per cent encouraged engagement and utilisation of support, and just over a quarter (27%) said that they had made it easier for employees to access support and benefits remotely, such as via apps and online. A quarter extended support beyond the individual employee to include family members, and 22% invested in new employee benefits to provide extra support.

Employees report deterioration in wellness

Further GRiD research, conducted amongst 1,212 UK workers between 14-18 January 2022, highlights the fact that employers were correct to take steps to provide and communicate support and benefits to staff. Thirty-eight percent of employees stated that their mental health had deteriorated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, 27% saw their physical health deteriorate and a further 27% had concerns about their financial health.

Forty-two percent of employees expect more support from their employers to help them cope. This employee presumption means employers need to assess whether their current employee benefits are up to the task of getting the wellbeing of staff back on track. Many staff are anticipating that their employers will provide on this front, and employers would do well to deliver, particularly in light of how employees feel their health has deteriorated .

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said: “As is evident in the research, employees feel most vulnerable in terms of their mental wellbeing, and employers have rightly assessed this as being an area in which they can step up and take more responsibility. However, employers should be wary of solely prioritising one area of wellbeing over another.

Mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing are inextricably linked and so employers must address all four areas when providing post-pandemic support for staff. Employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness have proven really popular because they provide financial support when people have been directly affected by the pandemic, as well as extra embedded services designed to support health and wellbeing.

“As the UK adjusts to the new norms of working life, adopting this holistic approach to staff wellbeing will ensure that all employees are as well-looked after as possible, and this will have long-term benefits for the business too.”