Due to a multitude of lockdowns and travel restrictions, many workers in Asia have found themselves unable to clear their annual leave in time. The struggle is especially real for those workers who were subjected to a work-from-home arrangement, as they typically do not feel the need to spend their leave, resulting in a huge surplus.
Some employees have tried to save up their unused leave days to bring them forward to the next year, but the lack of a break from work could take a toll on their mental and physical health.
“Many employees tend to not take annual leave when they are working from home, as they do not feel like they need a ‘getaway’ from the office environment,” said Jaya Dass, Randstad’s managing director for Singapore and Malaysia.
However, Dass also states that continuing to work for extended periods of time without taking break or leave can impact energy levels and eventually lead to employee burnout.
Dass also notes that employees hoarding and carrying forward their annual leave could potentially become a huge issue for companies, as firms would have to register said unused leave days as a financial liability in the profit and loss statements. This in particular is not a very viable option for SMEs; who often suffer from lower and less reliable cash flow.
Several expert have put forth the idea that encashment of leave at year-end could be an option to get rid of an overabundance of annual leave. However, companies that allow the encashment of leave in light of the COVID-19 situation could be setting a precedent where employees might think this is an option in future; potentially driving wrong behaviours around hoarding leave with the intention of encashing it, said Robert Walters South East Asia HR director Tricia Tan.
Encashment costs money, which will place financial strain on businesses that are already struggling, Ms Tan said, adding that the priority at the moment should be on ensuring that business operations can continue viably so that employees will continue to have a job.
Some other options that companies have put forth include looking into including a portion of annual leave to be carried over to the next year to be cleared within a set time period, or enforcing block leave.
Companies can also allow employees to use their annual leave as flexible credits for benefits such as self-improvement courses, counselling, health screening, yoga and gym classes as well as health supplements.
The absolute worst case scenario is having employees forfeit leave. However, this method is almost universally discouraged by experts as it can open up feelings of discontent and unfairness.