What is Leaveism and Why Is It a Problem?

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck July 4, 2023

In recent years we’ve seen the rise of flexible working arrangements, such as hybrid and remote work. While there are a number of benefits to this, there are also some potential problems that arise, such as leaveism.

Leaveism (aka leavism) is part of the same family as absenteeism and presenteeism. It’s most closely related to the latter, as both leaveism and presenteeism often come from employees’ desire to work hard and give a good impression.

Keep reading to learn more about leaveism, how it affects your business and how to combat it.

What is Leaveism?

The most basic way to look at leaveism is when employees let work encroach on their annual leave or regularly scheduled time off.

There are a few different things that can be classified as leaveism, a term first used by the University of Mancherster’s Dr Ian Hesketh in a 2014 research paper.

Examples include:

What Causes Leaveism?

There are two root causes of leaveism – pressure and connectivity.

On one hand, employees may feel pressured to keep up with a high workload or maintain good appearances in a competitive environment. As a result, they feel they need to keep working outside of normal working hours to catch up or get ahead, that they can’t afford to ignore work-related messages outside of normal working hours, and that they don’t want to take sick leave out of fear that it will make their employer think less of them.

Yet sometimes it’s just the extreme level of connectivity we have today, blurring the lines between work and home.

It started with cellphones, the internet and email. We began to be reachable all day, every day, anywhere. People could receive calls or check emails outside of working hours.

Now, the line is blurred even further with remote work. For many of us, the office isn’t a physical threshold where work stops and home begins anymore. We’re used to working from home, so we end up working during our time off just out of habit if anything.

The employee could also just want to make a good impression or advance their career by putting in extra hours. Sometimes this works – but few realize the detrimental effects that it can have in the long run.

The Negative Effects of Leaveism (Why It’s a Big Problem)

Leaveism seems like a good thing on the surface – higher productivity, greater connectivity enabling better collaboration.

But it creates issues long-term. It leads to overworked, burned out employees when they work too much and don’t get time to truly switch off.

The result of this is an uptick in physical and mental health issues (e.g. stress, anxiety and depression), decreasing performance and employee engagement, and eventually higher turnover.

The worst part about leaveism is that it becomes the culture in a business. It’s very rare to see isolated cases of leaveism. It’s more often that it’s the norm, and each employee feels they need to work through their time off just to keep up.

This eventually creates a toxic working environment, which is a breeding ground for poor mental health and negativity.

Leaveism vs Presenteeism

Leaveism and presenteeism are two very similar issues.

Presenteeism is when employees stay at work too long or come in to work too often, despite being unwell or overworked.

Compare that to leaveism, where employees take their work with them, to home or on holiday.

Both come from a similar place, which is the pressure or desire to work “hard” and show that you’re a productive member of the team. And both result in a loss of work-life balance, mental health problems, and ultimately a drop in productivity, despite the initial intention being to work harder and produce more.

Effective tracking of paid time off is essential to address leaveism, absenteeism and presenteeism. Flamingo makes this easy. It’s the most streamlined way to stay on top of planned leaves, sick leave and more, to ensure your company has a healthy absence rate.

Try Flamingo for free and get set up in five minutes.

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How to Combat Leaveism

The fight against leaveism starts with adopting a long-term outlook, understanding that it’s ultimately better for both the company and the individual if employees are able to switch off completely and enjoy their time off.

Many companies notice it happening, but don’t say anything, as they believe it’s a good thing when employees put in extra work or make themselves available 24/7.

If you understand the negative effects this can have, and want to prevent leaveism from becoming a problem in your team, here are some things to do to fight it.

Manage employees’ workloads

It’s natural to want to push your employees to get more done. However, you need to ensure that what you’re asking from your employees is reasonable. A heavy workload is one of the most common causes of leaveism, with many people feeling like they need to work extra to keep up or catch up.

Of course, there’s still a business to run and productivity to maintain. But results will be better long-term if with a balanced workload.

Create a positive and secure working environment

General pressure to get ahead or to give a good impression also leads to leaveism. To fight this, you need to work on building an environment where people aren’t clawing at each other to get ahead.

Though competition can build high-performers, it can also create a toxic environment that’s ultimately not good for business.

As part of creating a positive environment, you should make employees feel they have some level of job security. Don’t let otherwise solid performers feel like they’re risking their job by calling in sick or not picking up a work call after hours.

Avoid promoting “hustle culture”

Hustle culture or “always on” culture is often seen as a good thing, and promoted or rewarded. Yet when you reward this, you subconsciously pressure employees to keep up with this standard.

Constantly hustling and grinding is not good for physical and mental health. Though it might produce short-term results, the long-term effects on company culture, sickness absence rate and turnover is not worth it.

Educate employees on how to maintain work-life balance

Give employees assistance in avoiding the traps of overwork and over-connectedness.

The first step is letting them know that you value their work-life balance. Make sure they understand that you don’t expect them to be constantly available, constantly working.

Second, help them understand how they can effectively switch off, especially if they often work from home. Share tips on creating a separation between work and home, such as creating a dedicated workspace and sticking to a set routine and schedule when working remotely.

Create a work from home/annual leave policy for employees

You may want to go as far as creating documents that spell out the need for employees to switch off when work is over.

These policies might explain that workers should not work outside of their regular hours or while on annual leave. Putting it in a policy really enforces what’s expected of employees and lets them know that this downtime is important.

Some HR professionals even cut off access to work systems, such as email, when employees go on extended leave (e.g. parental leave). Though this may not be totally necessary, it’s one way to ensure that employees don’t let work encroach on their leave.

Further Reading: How to Set Up a Work From Home Policy

Conduct regular wellbeing checks

It can be hard to notice leaveism, as you can’t necessarily tell when an employee has been working to catch up on holiday or after hours.

You might think someone is performing at a high level, when in fact they’re struggling to keep up and starting to burn out.

You may be able to catch this with regular wellbeing checks. Make it a habit to check in with employees and ask how they’re doing, ensuring to make them feel safe and comfortable being honest. This may bring up some red flags that allow you to make the necessary changes to their workload or to deal with issues in your company culture.

Final Thoughts

Employees working very long hours have long been seen as high-performers. But in the modern day workplace, we’re now more aware of the value of personal wellbeing, specifically how this provides better results long-term.

Modern companies need to be aware of leaveism, and how employees working outside of their contracted hours is not always a good thing. Flexible working arrangements make the border between work hours and personal time difficult to discern, and the result is a dip in well being and a lack of quality time away from work.

If you want to build a positive working environment that lasts, support your team and empower them to actually take time off and disconnect. You’ll find this is the best way to build a successful company that lasts, and avoid personal issues and a revolving door of turnover that comes with a negative work culture.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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