South Africans, overworked and under-rested

Zurreal4employersExperts warn that not taking annual leave is bad news

South Africa is a nation of workaholics, and we are being pipped to the post only by the Japanese. This is according to an Ipsos Global and Reuters study which found that as many as 53% of the country’s working population are not taking their annual leave.

While South Africans are known to be a hard-working nation, failure to take annual leave is not unusual in the global context with only 33% of Japanese employees taking all their allotted vacation days. Similar to their South African counterparts, only 47% of Australians take all of their annual leave.

With the December summer holidays just around the corner, Dr Jacqui Joubert, managing director, Human Capital Risk Management for Zurreal4employers,an integrated and holistic human capital and risk management solution is calling on South Africans to break this cycle of overwork as tired employees are generally unhappy, unproductive employees.

“The time has come for all the workaholics in this country to down their tools and take a much-needed break. Make a concerted effort to get away from your desk. Even if you don’t land up going away, try and spend time at home with your loved ones relaxing and recharging your batteries,” urges Dr Joubert.

There is a large body of research suggesting the importance of taking annual leave to the overall health and wellbeing of employees, as well as the South African economy. Dr Jacques Snyman, managing director of Integrated Care Solutions at Agility, owners of Zurreal4employers, says that working long and extensive periods of time without taking a break can have a negative effect on employee health, job performance and productivity, and cause costly mistakes.

“Fatigue-related accidents can be potentially life threatening and workplace stress can lead to a whole host of other health problems such as headaches, increased anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, and alcohol and substance abuse. This impacts company bottom lines in the long run, causes higher rates of absenteeism and ultimately has a negative effect on the South African economy,” asserts Dr Snyman.

In fact, research conducted by Statistics South Africa shows that employee absenteeism costs the South African economy between R12bn and 16bn annually, a large portion of which can be attributed to workplace stress, burnout and employee ill health.

Both Dr Joubert and Dr Snyman assert that employers need to ensure that staff members take their full annual leave. “Unfortunately, employers often fail to communicate this to their employees and many South Africans do not take regular breaks because they feel compelled to work longer hours and take fewer days off. This is due to financial pressures, a volatile economic climate and concerns about job security,” says Dr Joubert.

Others state that they are worried about returning to a heavy workload or are concerned that nobody else will be able to do their work while they are away. Some employees do not use all their time off because they want to show full dedication to their company and they are worried about being seen as replaceable or lazy.

Dr Snyman says that taking some time off is important for both our physical and mental health and wellbeing. “Chronic stress takes its toll on the body and affects the body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, develop a healthy sleeping pattern and even digest food. This is in addition to psychological problems such as depression, irritability and anxiety caused by chronic stress. Spending time with family and friends, relaxing by doing activities you enjoy, taking regular breaks and spending a few days or weeks away from work is one of the best ways to reduce stress,” he asserts.

Dr Joubert explains that South Africans are legally entitled to take at least1 day leave for every 17 days worked. The average employee, who works Mondays to Fridays from 08:00 to 17:00, works a total of 21.67 days per month and therefore qualifies to 15 working days paid annual leave per year.

“With the December holidays fast approaching, it’s time to make the most of the warmer weather and take a well-deserved break,” says Dr Joubert. “If you are an employer, it is your responsibility to encourage your staff to utilise their annual leave so that they return revived and rejuvenated in the New Year,and ready to tackle the challenges of 2015. It will result in a more productive and successful year for your company and a more productive and satisfied workforce,” she concludes.