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Tuesday, 5 September, 2000, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
All work and no play

Some 75,000 UK workers went without a paid holiday last year. All work and no play may be making many more in the workforce not only dull, but unproductive and unwell to boot.

Britain's long-hours culture has claimed another victim - the holiday.

Employers across the country are flouting the law and not allowing their staff to take the statutory four weeks' paid leave per year.

British beach
Wish you were here?
Citizens Advice Bureaux found one hairdresser who had been granted no such break in five years.

Britons already work longer hours than their contemporaries on the Continent. Yet this diligence has not seen them climb to the top of the productivity table.

Two-thirds of managers are fully aware of the link between British "presenteeism" and poor performance, said a survey by the Institute of Management.

That didn't seem to stop one in 10 of them spending upwards of 61 hours at work each week.

Holiday job

"Too many bad bosses are putting profits before the well-being of their staff," said GMB union leader John Edmonds, when it emerged that one-third of us worked during the last Bank Holiday.

While only one in three bosses showed their faces, more than 60% of shop workers clocked in on the public holiday. Many will not have received any extra payments or time in lieu for their efforts.

Working the holiday? You can bank on it
Since the Working Time Regulations decreed that employees had to be given a minimum of four weeks' leave - without loss of earnings - some firms have begun to count Bank Holidays as a part of that entitlement.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, says keeping staff holiday to a minimum, or ignoring the law altogether, is a false economy.

"Employers can't afford to not let people take holiday. Ultimately it will undermine the workers' health, but also undermine the business."

As good as a rest?

Tired, stressed workers dreaming of foreign climes or a day off with the family are a liability on the factory floor and win over few customers in the service sector.

"You risk burning out your staff and creating all manner of problems for your operation," says Mr Cooper.

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori
"Seven nights self-catering in Ayia Napa, who's in?"
Employees shoulder some of the blame for this work culture. The Institute of Personnel and Development estimates there are one million "workaholics" in the UK, willing to turn their lives over to their careers.

The Working Time Regulations may require managers to ensure their subordinates have the opportunity to take leave, but they are not obliged to pack your bags and take you to the airport by force.

Although the regulations outlaw the American practice of trading in holiday time for cash, they don't demand that one year's leave allowance can be taken over into the next.

In this "use it or lose it" game, many Britons seem to settle uncomplainingly for the latter.

Worked to death

The "holiday is for wimps" culture has a tight grip in the battered Japanese economy. More than 10,000 men succumb to karoshi - death by overwork - every year.

Although entitled to 17.5 days annual holiday, the average Japanese now takes just nine. Work-related suicides have doubled since 1991, as has the number of people claiming to feel "worried, anxious, irritable or angry".

Mr Cooper says holiday entitlement should increase to keep pace with our ever more demanding world.

Formula One drivers
"I was thinking Margate or maybe even Clacton."
"We have to understand that breaks help people recover from the growing pressures of the work environment."

Such calls for more holiday time have received support from a rather unusual quarter.

Swanning around the globe, surrounded by models and celebrities, and commanding a six-figure salary may sound like a holiday in itself, but Formula One boss Eddie Jordan says drivers need more leisure time.

Mr Jordan has suggested that racing should stop during August, so that everyone can take a break from the "high levels of stress involved" in the sport.

Summer stress

Joining the traditional August holidaymakers may not do much to relieve stress levels, says Mr Cooper.

"Taking a break when everyone else does can minimise the beneficial effects. It can increase your stress levels battling through the crowds at the airport or across a crowded beach."

Some employers allow staff to have a limited number of unscheduled "duvet days" - days when you just can't bear to get out of bed.

Working from bed
"Pork bellies at nine? Buy, buy, buy! Bye."
"People should take breaks when they need them, not just when everyone else does," says Mr Cooper.

Of course, to many employers a "duvet day" would be seen as a straight loss in the ledger book.

However, overwork seems to erode the relationship between employer and employee. More than 40% of people now say thay feel no loyalty to their company, with all the effects on productivity and staff turnover that entails.

The financial benefits of increasing leave allowances can be more obvious. A third of employees say they would take a pay cut for a job offering more free time.

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See also:

29 Aug 00 | UK
Beating post-holiday blues
28 Jul 00 | UK
Don't blame the parents
15 Oct 99 | e-cyclopedia
Serial skiving: What's your excuse?
25 Jul 00 | Scotland
Scots workers 'feel the pressure'
02 Sep 99 | The Economy
Workers 'pressured' into extra hours
25 Aug 99 | The Economy
'One million workaholics' in UK
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