Should you enforce leave during the holidays?

4th December, 2015

If you’re an employer, the idea of enforcing leave over Christmas might be appealing. Before you do so it’s important to check whether you’re legally entitled to do so. That’s because leave can only be enforced under specific circumstances, such as a Christmas shutdown or if staff have large amounts of accrued leave.

Find more information about annual leave and legal entitlements in Australia and New Zealand.

But what if you want to encourage staff to take leave even if your business doesn’t close down over the holidays? Over the last few years I’ve noticed more businesses, including large corporations, encouraging staff to take leave over the Christmas period — and this can be a very good thing.

Here are three reasons why you might want to encourage staff to take a break at Christmas.

1. It’s operationally and financially smart

Encouraging staff to take 7 to 10 days leave at Christmas uses up some of their annual leave balance, which reduces the need to cover for long absences or make provision for leave payouts.

While it is an employee’s right to accrue leave, small business owners in particular also need to look to their own business sustainability and manage leave so it works for them as well as employees.

Leave management is vital. Because untaken leave can be rolled over to the next year, workers are able to accrue large leave balances, which has important business management implications.

On a practical level it means being able to cope if a staff member takes a longer than usual break. For instance, they may save up their leave for a long holiday, or need to take care of a sick relative, or accompany a partner on long service leave. Financially, it means setting aside money to pay out leave in case an employee resigns or has their employment terminated.

If you run a small business, or even a larger one — especially with staff who have specialised skills — it’s good management to try to keep leave balances at a manageable level. Encouraging everyone to take a Christmas break is one way to do that.

2. Workers need a break

Whether we work with our bodies or our minds, we all need rest from work if we are to perform at our best.

A simple way to reduce the risk of work-induced stress is to make sure your team take the leave they are entitled to. Yet in many workplaces, especially small business, there might seem so much for people to do that they are reluctant to take leave. A break over Christmas, when the pace of work may be slower, can make it easier for people to rest.

3. You can stagger the leave

For some people, the holiday season is all about Christmas. For others, it’s all about New Year. For others still, it may be about sporting events that traditionally take place at that time, such as the tennis or the cricket.

Talking to your staff about their priorities means you can stagger the leave meaningfully so that key staff members can take a break during times that are important to them — while you ensure that you have at least one key pair of hands on deck at all times.


But remember that not everyone will want to take leave. Unless you have a complete shutdown, most likely you will have some staff who want to work, so you’ll need to accommodate them — including opening the business premises and managing or supervising them appropriately. Dealing with this will require pre-planning. For example, you may negotiate with a manager to be on duty if their staff are working.

If you want to avoid the difficulties that come with having just a few staff at work, engage your team to talk through what they think the potential hiccups might be.  Work out together how you can help to remove the roadblocks.

Encouraging your team to take leave is good for them, and good for you as the employer. With a little pre-planning, hopefully you can all have a healthy break and come back to business in the New Year with renewed energy.