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On average, European employees require 17 holiday leave days to recharge their batteries

One in three European employees work during holidays
European employees require 17 holiday leave

On average, European employees require 17 days of holiday leave to recharge their batteries. On the other hand, 30% of the employees surveyed answer occasional work-related phone calls or emails while off on holiday. This was revealed by a study of 10,119 European employees conducted by SD Worx, the leading European HR and payroll services provider. Now that it's nearly time for the summer holidays, SD Worx has shared employees' approach to holiday leave: how many leave days do they need to wind down, do they generally take their holidays at the same time each year and how far in advance do they submit holiday leave requests? 

More than ever, people are looking for a good work-life balance. The question of how many days of holiday are necessary to unwind garnered a range of responses among European employees. The amount of variation between different European countries is particularly striking. On average, European employees require 17 days of holiday leave to recharge their batteries. In the United Kingdom, 8.5 leave days are sufficient. Italian employees make do with 11 days of holiday leave. In countries such as Spain and Finland, more holiday time is considered necessary, and people express preferences for 27 days and 34 days respectively.

How long should your holiday last to fully recharge your batteries

There are less significant differences when it comes to taking holiday leave at the same times year after year. 37% of European employees take their annual holidays according to a fixed pattern. Dutch (45%), Italian (42%) and Belgian employees (42%) are most likely to take holiday leave at fixed times. Finnish employees (23%) are the least likely to do so. A recurrent annual holiday pattern is most common among married employees, followed by those who are cohabiting. Of those who are single, only one in three take holidays at fixed times. 33% of European employees like to take shorter holidays, such as a long weekend or a day off.

Remarkably, a further 37% of European employees are prepared to take unpaid leave if they have used up their leave days. This is a recurrent phenomenon, especially among Swedish (44%), British (43%) and Finnish (42%) employees. This preference is least applicable to Spanish employees (27%).

One in three follow up on work while off on holiday

Clearly, not everyone finds it easy to keep work and holiday time separate. A third of European employees indicate that they still do some work during holidays, such as checking emails or answering work-related phone calls. This habit is particularly common among Norwegian (45%), Dutch (37%) and Italian (34%) employees. German employees are noticeably less likely to work while on holiday: only 23% respond to work emails or calls.

In addition, an average of 30% of respondents indicate that they find it difficult to disconnect from work mentally during holidays. Norwegian (36%), British (33%) and Italian (32%) employees in particular experience these difficulties. Furthermore, it is mainly younger employees between the ages of 25 and 34 who have a hard time disconnecting from work during holidays (38%). This level of concern does recede with age. Among those over 55, around 20% say they find it difficult to let work go mentally.

Holiday leave requests not (yet) sufficiently digitised

Almost four out of ten (37%) of European workers are not required to apply for days off in advance. Especially in Belgian (42%), British (39%), German (38%) and Italian (38%) workplaces, there is no need to request leave beforehand. 

Among companies that do oblige employees to apply for holiday leave in advance, there are marked differences in how far in advance holiday requests must be submitted. On average, European employees must submit their holiday requests at least 37 days beforehand. Germany is most excessive at 75 days, Spain follows with 61, and the Netherlands comes in third with 55 days. Swedish, Norwegian and Italian employees can submit such requests much later, at 26, 14 and 11 days in advance respectively.

Despite the growth of digitalisation in the workplace, it is noteworthy that not all holiday request processes have been digitised. Only half of the respondents indicate an ability to request holiday leave from a desktop or laptop. Dutch (66%), Norwegian (59%) and Swedish (58%) employees are most likely to use this option. 38% of European employees also use their smartphones to apply for holiday leave on occasion. 

"It's important to offer employees sufficient flexibility in their holiday planning to encourage an optimal work-life balance. What that balance actually looks like in practice can differ between employees. One may wish to keep work and holidays entirely separate, while another prefers to maintain a general overview", says Cathy Geerts, Chief HR Officer at SD Worx. "However, it is vital that employees have the option to do their holiday planning easily and autonomously, preferably using digital requests. Employers are at an advantage if they can give their employees that flexibility and go along with the trend for increasingly personalised interactions between employers and employees. In addition, digitalisation and automation also have clear advantages to offer employers. HR teams are freed from the need to spend time on administrative and time-intensive tasks and have room to focus on tasks with greater strategic added value, such as talent management, well-being and recruitment."

About the survey

In the context of the war for talent, SD Worx conducted a survey in collaboration with iVox on how European employees approach the issue of taking leave. The survey focused on attractive employership in the war for talent, investigating what employees look for in an employer and what employers do to be or become attractive as an employer. The survey covers seven areas employers can look to improve: well-being and people-driven HR, flexible work organisation, a motivating reward policy, an inspiring and stimulating culture, the digital workplace, talent management for sustainable careers, and recruitment.

It was conducted in March 2022, in Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. 10,119 employees were surveyed altogether. The sample is representative of the specific local labour markets, with the same composition as to gender, age and educational degree as the economically active population in the countries concerned.