Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why Is It So Difficult To Take Annual Leave?

As an employee of an organization, we are usually entitled to an annual leave amounting to different number of days as regulated by the ministry labor. Each employees' annual leave is also usually dependent upon the industry, job grade seniority and serving tenure in the company.

The purpose of paid annual leave given to employees is pretty clear. Annual leave allows employees to take paid time off from work for the purpose of having regular breaks so that they can rest, re-energize and come back to work fresher. It is also know from research studies that employees who take regular short break holidays can be more motivated about their work and perform more effectively than those who do not. They are less prone to suffer from anxiety and stress because they get to relax their mind off any related work stuff and they will feel like they have life after all outside of work.

Although it seems like that's the general knowledge that everyone could understand, that's not exactly the case of what we are seeing in many organization. As an accountant having worked in several organizations myself, I am required to make leave accruals on a monthly basis for the general provision purpose. The trend that I am seeing is a lot of employees tend to have many outstanding leave balance that tends to increase for the first 8 months, then slowly trend down within the last 4 months heading into the end of the year. The Christmas holiday could be an excuse for such trend at times, but the overall impression I get from most is they tend to carry forward the leave balance to the next calendar year or forfeit them altogether.

My Experience

I can relate to this as I experience the same dilemma myself.

I am entitled to the normal 24 days of paid leave a year. Perhaps, the nature of my role in the organization makes it such that it is very difficult to plan for long leave break, not to even mention the possibility of a sabbatical. With many companies suffering from the high manpower costs of labor crunch, it is also very difficult to have sufficient manpower to back up one another. As a result, the vicious cycle between giving the much needed break to employees and balancing the needs of the company comes into question.

This ties back to the recent posting I wrote about FI (link here) which sparks about different thoughts from different readers. I guess the point I am trying to bring across there is that FI gives you a call option to have more flexibility to choose about the things that you care most about. I have no qualms about people who likes to continue working. In fact, they can even choose to work 100 hours per week for all they like, but different people have different priorities in life. What is mine is definitely uniquely different from yours.

With that said, my difficulties in taking a long break of annual leave is definitely tied down due to the nature of my role, which I can't inherently do anything much about it.

What about your experience with utilizing annual leave from your workplace? Does it boils down to the culture of the company and/or roles?


  1. Hi B,

    For me, taking leave means cutting my pay. It's as simple as that. I don't take MC, unless it's absolutely necessary and when I do take leave, I make sure I don't spend time doing things I didn't plan for. I know exactly how much my hourly rate is, so if I have to take leave and stay home and rot, I might as well go work.

    Usually I don't take leave because of responsibility and duties. You just can leave when your student is taking exams and needs your help. I guess that's the same for employees too. But I think for you guys, you have a lot more to worry about - like what your boss will think of you, coordinating with other colleages who will take over your job scope for while etc etc...Mine is so much more clear cut.

    1. Hi LP

      Thanks for sharing from your view.

      I am curious to which how you are able to take a slightly prolonged leave (e.g 2 weeks or more for a vacation or something) when your schedule with the students are all already planned for in advance (and continuously). Is that a lot more difficult to plan for or something that you have to do well in advance by notifying the students?

    2. Hi B,

      Actually I've not taken more than 2 weeks. At most just a few days. I suppose I can, I just need to inform parents. But I don't take it during exam season. If it's normal holidays period, I'm sure they will understand, so it's not a big problem. I just haven't found the right reason to take 2 weeks of leave :)

    3. Hi LP

      Ahh, I see now.

      A few days would be fine for the students I guess, especially if it's not during the peak exam season.

  2. B, I encashed >1 year AL entitlement when I left my previous job. I also dislike the pre and post leave to clear work; the extra hours and effort put in could square up with that 1 day leave we took. Taking leave is very important to prevent burnout.

    1. Hi Frugal Daddy

      Looks like that's the habit most employees are taking.

      They accumulate the leave from the previous year brought forward and encash them once they leave the company. Not a totally bad proposition altogether though it'll be nice if they can utilize those leave meaningfully. My last long leave vacation was for my honeymoon which is 2 years ago , and something the company "can't" reject. :)

    2. I always use the excuse: "I need to clear last year leave" for long holiday. it works.

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  4. B,

    It has to do more with the organisation culture than anything else.

    I had the pleasure of experiencing the Swedish way where the CEO and other top management set the example by taking long vacation (more than 1 month) during summer breaks.

    My personal observation of the benefits:

    1) We do the actual walk on Work Life Balance.

    2) Happier co-workers; less burnouts. More energised.

    3) Focus on fire-prevention; less fire fighting.

    4) Encourage delegation and co-ordination.

    5) Backups in every position.

    You know the no.1 fear of Asian hired hands?

    Training our competition.

    A lot of excuses we give are bullshit. At the end of the day, we just want to pretend we are indispensable.

    This self-denial is broken if the organisation can "survive" when we are not around for a month.

    1. Hi SMOL

      I can't agree more with the organization culture that has to be encouraged and set from the top management. Virgin, Facebook, Twitter all have positive working culture that encourages employees to take vacation time. I guess it's because they have positions that can cover each other well and so the company is not dependent upon a single employee.

      The truth is it's actually not that bad, like you said, even if an employee leaves, it's not supposed to be the end of the world. They like to exaggerate the matters so it's really poor that it's the case.

    2. B,

      My point was that even if the organisational culture encourages it, Asians have a tough time doing it - at least it was for me in the beginning.

      Just look at how many of our Asian colleagues take the FULL allotment of our paternity and maternity leave?

      We are so competitive!

      By the way, did you take your paternity leave?

    3. Hi SMOL

      Sure I did ;), and even had mine extended as well by utilizing my own annual leave. Some things are just more important than work, and there's no doubt this is a case in particular.

      It's rather strange why the mindset goes within Asian in particulars. I'm sure everyone loves to take a break, perhaps when the management indirectly "prefers" someone to be in the office, they have just set the example their way.

  5. B,

    July and Aug is summer holiday in Europe for my company. Everyone will be disappearing for minimum 3 weeks!

    On top of that, for Xmas period co will be closed for 2 wks in Europe. Then after new year there will be Winter holiday break where ppl go skiing.

    In Mar, May, Oct, there will usually be short 3-5days break coupled with their holiday.

    Nvm stop blaming that we r not Europeans bcos luckily we are not Greeks! :-)

    1. Hi Rolf

      Wow, it looks like your organization had a lot of open culture there in terms of work life balance. My companies are also from the European but because of the difficulties in recent year, a lot of the positions are being reduced and therefore it is difficult to sustain a back up for one another during a prolonged period.

    2. Hi B,

      Forget to mention that is only in Europe! In SG, it's no difference from our SG norm. But now Oil and Gas crisis... good times don't last. Similarly bad times too! :-)

    3. Hi Rolf

      Ah okay, now i see. So there is something about the SG culture that makes everyone proud doing longer and endless work ;)

  6. Hi B,

    Being restricted by the rules or culture of an organisation around when you can take leave is definitely a major drawback, and probably the most compelling reason to achieve some degree of financial freedom.

    I'm reasonably fortunate in that my organisation (and previous employer) are reasonably accommodating if you want to take extended breaks, or cut back your hours. My only challenge is making the decisions to do that, and trade it off with earning more money to achieve financial independence sooner!

    I guess at the end of the day you have to weigh up the pros and cons of your role, including the ability to take leave, and decide if on balance it's still a good place for you to be.



    1. Hi Jason

      I'd love to work for such an organization, though they may not necessarily be easy to find. I'll definitely leap into that closer to FI and ultimately what matters is time and freedom, something which we have been searching for all these while.

  7. I think another idea is about not realising it.

    Every workday is a rush, you return home tired and exhausted. You just sleep and the cycle continues. Weekends end up as sleeping days and chores. This cycle repeats until you realise, Oh a year has passed and I have not taken a single day!

    1. Hi Azrael

      If it gets to the point that one is not realizing it, then it's really bad as the cycle will get deeper and deeper until no one realises it in the end. Not a strange phenomenon as I have some colleagues who are like that.

    2. Yea I only took 3 days after 1 year of work ^^"

      My leave was frozen at the EOY when I wanted to take, so there went a chance...... And I forgot about it, rushing work, until recently ^^"

    3. That's brutal there. I hope you don't forfeit the leave just like that. Some companies allow carry overs so I hope that's the case for you.

    4. Trying to clear all at one go now. =)

      I need a long break =)

  8. From my previous job experience, it can be very hard to take leave whereby different aspects of your work is covered by different person. So when I take leave, I have to check with party A,B,C. Hence, I end up with a full year leave when I tendered my resignation. I can actually leave on the next day after I tendered but I stayed for another day as a goodwill gesture. What comes around goes around - insufficient time to do proper handover when the company makes it so difficult for staff to take leave.

    1. Hi Betta man

      Management don't usually care about such stuff and they have the right to ask employees to encash the leave when they resign but they still need to stay for the notice period. Companies usually accrue for such unearned leave in their books, so they would have budgeted for it.

  9. I would like to take a couple years off. Just to travel, clear my head, read, use different part of my brain. Anyhow, I'm a scientist, being in the work force since 16 years old, came out of college and worked for 10 years straight, I've became DULL. I've recently went mushroom hunting, and start growing my own mushroom at home. I'm good at running experiment, it's something! :) Until I can retire in 2 years :)

    1. Hi Vivianne

      Sounds really interesting project there.

      Experiencing different things in life would certainly makes life interesting. I have no doubt that you are able to retire soon with your multiple source of income and I look forward to seeing you succeed from it.