It's a long time between holidays for workers in Canada. According to a study by Ipsos-Reid and Expedia, there are 41 million untaken annual leave days currently on employer ledgers, one of the biggest economy-wide deficits in the world. Researchers say the owed leave is worth US$6.3bn in total.
And the reasons Canadians are avoiding their annual leave allocations? Respondents typically said they were too busy, unable to schedule holidays in advance, held captive by children in school or feared missing an important meeting.
"I am not good at taking vacation time or booking it," said one HR counselor at a Toronto bank. "The challenge is coordinating schedules within the team as well as with family and, once you have children, daycare arrangements as well."
Twenty-one per cent of Canadians didn't take any of their annual leave last year, a figure that has been increasing over the last six years. The situation is most prevalent in the booming economies of British Columbia and Alberta, where 42% and 41% of employees respectively report feeling "vacation deprived".
Azaan Jaffer, a risk and strategy consultant in Toronto, said he rarely took vacation time as he thought his firm could not survive without him. "It was more like self-imposed importance," he said. However, these days, he is part of a thinning majority taking time off
Locally, Australian businesses are discovering what might be the latest answer for gaining a competitive edge in today's market: simply dedicating more time and resources to maintaining their employees' health and encouraging a better work-life balance.
Unplanned absence from work, such as sick leave, can be costly to employers through lower productivity, additional wages for replacement staff or overtime wages for current staff.
"To improve productivity and the bottom line, employers need to become more focused on encouraging a well-rested and balanced workforce. In addition to higher productivity levels, employees will take fewer sick days and in turn generate immediate financial benefits to the organisation," said Peter Wilson, president of Australian Human Resources Institute.
Research commissioned by Tourism Australia, for its No Leave, No Life program, has revealed that no matter the size or nature of the business, stockpiling annual leave is an entrenched issue that needs to be moved up the business agenda.
"There has been an increase in health hazards and sick leave in the workplace which may be attributed to the erosion of the division between work and home and personal life," added Wilson.
"By addressing your employees' work-life balance, staff turnover can be reduced and companies are urged to place this high on their agenda as skilled employees should be treated as assets, especially during these tougher times," continued Wilson.
Employees who are not achieving a work-life balance have been found three times more likely to consider leaving the company, resulting in higher staff turnover, overall lower productivity levels and recruitment costs.
Tourism Australia's No Leave, No Life program aims to address this issue entrenched in the workplace by offering employees and employers the support tools and resources necessary to win the work/life battle by encouraging Australians to take their entitled annual leave and explore Australia.
The program's website www.noleavenolife.com provides regular, up-to-date information and resources for Australians and their employers as well as practical tools to help them plan and take holidays.