Why India is vacation deprived

With the storm that a vacation deprivation survey has stirred in our teacups, Anupama Chandra walks in various shoes to check the ground reality

The insights of a survey has broken the internet for us Indians, because we have been bestowed yet another dubious honour – the most vacation deprived country globally. Last year, we had grabbed the fifth rank and, in 2016, we cornered the fourth in the same survey – Expedia’s Vacation Deprivation Study.

If an employee has utilised all of his annual leave, then he is a bad employee.” This is a straight lift of a favourite mantra of one of my ex-bosses at a leading media office. Is it a shock then that poor work-life balance is one of the key fallouts of what we see in the survey? I thought it was always a given.

(Wo)Manpower hits a new low

An IT service industries manager Om* agrees, “No colleague can take regular leave since there are no backups in place as it’s deemed an extra (and optional) operation cost. Can you imagine having the adequate workforce numbers seen as a loss to business…?” Clearly, Indians being forced to slack off on taking breaks is chiefly a low (wo)manpower issue in companies, mostly by design.

Neel*, a digital media veteran with over 15 years of experience says, “We take short vacations only as we are entitled to leave only for short vacations, and for affordability issues; vacations are expensive.”

Why India is vacation deprived

Can we afford (long) leave?

Affordability comes in two shapes: time and money. Yuki Hosaka, a Japanese national working in India as Lead Research Analyst at Ugam Solutions, went home “in end-2017 to January 2018, to spend time with my family and friends after a long time.” She admits that “I came back refreshed.” She also believes her Indian colleagues can “take leave when they want.”

Nitin*, a senior marketing leader in the BFSI industry, says, “In March, we enjoyed a long leave to our native place. It was joyful to meet with friends and family.”

The only time I dared to plan, and was granted, a two-week leave was for my marriage. That’s also the cap to allowed leave and that’s only for a case like this; of course, even then leave has been denied,” confides Om.

For Neel, “My last vacation was in June 2016 when I visited my sister in Singapore for 10 days. It was deeply relaxing to be away. Don’t recall when I last planned a long trip.”

Romali, a senior digital media consultant for an IT MNC, enjoyed her 9-day long Thailand trip in 2017. She admits, “Long leave is good if it is very well planned in advance.”

On the grid or off it

While Om has to “check my mails constantly; nowadays you are also always on-duty on company WhatsApp to respond to queries anytime,” Romali prefers to be completely off-the-grid on vacation. Yuki also pleads guilty of checking office mail on vacation, “It can be avoided but I want to keep tabs on the work status.”

When on his rare break, Neel “enjoys the break by staying disconnected. If it’s unavoidable, then someone in office connects with me, with prior planning.” Nitin also “checked work mail due to unavoidable client dependency.”

Shorter breaks
Om’s last vacation was “a week-long one in August, after a year of negotiating leave. My wife had planned the visit to Singapore; it’s amazing to be in such a beautiful country but the happiness couldn’t last longer than a week.”

Nitin holidayed in July 2018 again in Bangalore-Mysuru-Ooty for a week. Yuki loves Goa and revisited it “for three days in November.” Romali too went to Goa last December for four days for a refreshing break with colleagues.

Are regular vacations necessary?

“Regular leave definitely help. We return rejuvenated and put in more efforts, which increases our company’s productivity,” Om replies, and has Neel agreeing. “My leave lapses every year as we can carry forward only 10. I would rather be on leave than have them lapse or encashed.”

Romali prefers to “encash leave only when I leave a company. Otherwise, I utilise them as even short trips refresh me.” Yuki agrees to this the last statement totally.

Nitin, on the other hand, has a divergent view, “I do not recommend taking regular leave if weekends are provided. They impact work; projects are delayed due to leave.” Interesting to note that he has never encashed his leave, had them lapsed or been denied them either. He also admitted having access to work-from-home facility as well. No wonder no complaints, huh?

India wants to know

Om is crystal clear when he points fingers, “The management is to blame for this ongoing situation. I wonder why the HR never tries to reason why employees’ leaves are lapsing in bulk and work to remedy the situation.”

There’s a solution. “Manage workloads well, and redistribute work to on-duty team members to ensure that a person in really ‘on leave’.” Yuki is as forthright, “If my approved leave is cancelled later, I will check with my boss and the HR for sure, and need to see a good reason for it.”

Romali and Neel say blaming anyone pointless. She elaborates, “Colleagues accumulate leave for end-of-year travel, which maybe denied due to client exigencies. Some people avoid taking leave as they lack interest and others have monetary issues.”

Neel brings in another point, “Usually there difficulty in coordinating timings, schedules especially with kids and both partners working.”

Verdict is out…

In this article, we are on point with the survey results. What we do with them remains to be seen.

Note: *= Names changed to maintain anonymity

Surveying over 11,000 working adults from 19 countries, some interesting India insights, as per the survey, are that:-

· 75% of Indians feel they need a vacation but cannot take one (beats last year’s India’s score at 60% and is the highest globally);

· 68% have had to cancel or postpone vacations due to work this year;

· 64% decided the length of their leave based on the amount of work awaiting them on return;

· about 53% claimed lesser leave than they are entitled too;

· approximately 41% hadn’t been on a holiday in the last 6 months due to their workload despite wanting to;

· 36% hadn’t had a vacation in 3 years,

· 35% people avoid taking leave in favour of spending more time at work;

· 34% were expected to be available to their colleagues while on leave; 33% to their junior staff and 32% to their seniors;

· 34% checked their mail, while on leave, once daily, on an average;

· 31% exchanged their unused leave in lieu of money;

· 25% have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) on important work if they go on vacation and also to be branded as less committed;

· 24% believed they couldn’t afford a vacation;

· 19% find coordinating time with their travel companion tough;

· 18% are of the mindset that successful individuals don’t take vacations;

· 17% hadn’t had a vacation in a year or so;

· nearly 16% saved leave to go on a long vacation (and, ultimately, wasted it);

· only 3% had been able to take a vacation every month.

Why India is vacation deprived

 If you are looking for an eye-catching figure, here it is – Indian employees forfeited approximately 2,600 million vacation days this year.

The survey says employees in F&B, retail, heath industries are most vacation deprived while those in the real estate sector are the least.

Women have it worse:

1. More than 77% of women are vacation-deprived as compared to 74% of men.

2. The same percentage of women has cancelled their vacations for work as compared to 64% men, and as much as 15% of women versus 10% of men feel guilty after taking a vacation.

3. About 46% women saved leave for unforeseen exigencies and ending up probably not using it.

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