Why annual leave is important for health

13 August 2018

Almost all UK employees are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave each year (which may include bank holidays). But not everybody uses the annual leave they are entitled to. Here we look at why it’s important to take annual leave and how you can help your team to take a break.

Why is it important to take annual leave?

Everyone needs time to rest, relax and recharge. And spending time away from work with the people we love is very important for our mental health. Over 800,000 people in the UK experience work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

We know that long-term work-related stress can lead to burnout, which causes exhaustion, negative thinking and reduces productivity. But we also know that people who take breaks from work can be more productive once they get back, having taken some time to rest.

Taking annual leave is also a health and safety measure. Working without proper rest and recovery is linked to injuries and accidents in the workplace.

Why don’t employees take leave?

Despite the benefits of annual leave, many people don’t use their full allowance. There are lots of reasons why employees may find it hard to take their leave. Often these reasons are based on unhelpful or irrational thoughts. They might:

  • feel they are too busy to take leave
  • feel guilty about giving extra work to their colleagues
  • worry that their work won’t be covered while they’re away and they will come back to more work
  • think they need to show extra commitment by being at work all the time
  • use work as a distraction from other issues such as problems in their personal life

During the pandemic many people have delayed taking leave. This could be because they were waiting for a time when they could travel safely, or because they were worried about job security.

Five tips for helping employees take their leave:

  1. Challenge any unhelpful beliefs about taking annual leave. Reassure your team that they shouldn’t feel bad about taking leave, and that as a manager you encourage it.
  2. Lead by example and make sure you’re regularly taking annual leave yourself.
  3. Put plans in place for reassigning work while people are on holiday. This will help reduce the worry they might have about coming back to an increased workload.
  4. Emphasise that many productive and high performing people take time away from work.
  5. Instead of using words like “leave” or “holiday”, try reframing time off as an opportunity to recharge or reset.

You should also highlight the importance of not checking on work while on holiday. This means encouraging people to turn off their work phone and ignore any work emails during their time off.

Above everything else, remember that annual leave is not an optional extra. Everyone’s legally entitled to take it, and it’s important for their health and wellbeing that they do.


  • Holiday entitlement. UK Government., accessed 5 April 2022
  • How to implement the Thriving at Work mental health standards in your workplace. Mind., accessed 5 April 2022
  • Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2021. Health and Safety Executive., published 16th December 2021
  • Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases. World Health Organization., published 28 May 2019
  • Human factors: Fatigue. Health and Safety Executive., accessed 5 April 2022
  • Do people have more Annual leave because of COVID-19? YouGov., published 27 November 2020
  • How to be mentally healthy at work. Mind., published December 2020
  • Personal communication. Naomi Humber. Head of Mental Wellbeing, Bupa Health Clinics, 8 April 2022

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