Dubai: Something big has been happening in many working individuals’ lives over the last decade — a phenomenon termed the ‘working vacation’. This is a syndrome wherein you are seemingly on a holiday but find yourself regularly checking on work emails, attending to office tasks and generally blurring the lines between work and vacation. There is also another term for this — ‘Leaveism’. What is Leaveism? It essentially about employees utilising their personal time to do office work. What’s more, it’s prevalent in the UAE.
A UAE study conducted by a Middlesex University Dubai MBA student Lakshmi Nair revealed that more than half the respondents said they have worked during their vacations either several times a day or between one and three times a week.
Titled Work Life Integration and Leaveism; a study of workplace practices in business excellence award-winning organisations in the UAE, Nair’s study surveyed 506 participants, and showed that more than 20 per cent of employees admitted to taking their work home.
“This can vary from working at home after office hours on weekdays or weekends, to working during annual leave or vacation,” said Nair.
She explained that while the concepts of ‘presenteeism’ (when employees come to work despite being unwell and so perform underpar) and ‘absenteeism’ (employee’s intentional or habitual absence from work) have previously been studied by researchers and HR professionals, the term ‘Leaveism’ provides the missing link in the studies.
“Leaveism is an under-researched phenomenon as the term was coined by Dr Ian Hesketh during his research on well-being in the UK police service in 2013 at the Lancaster University Management School,” said Nair.
The UK study, which showed that most employees admitted to working after office hours and during weekends, also highlighted that only 13 per cent conformed to never having responded to an office mail or call over the weekend.
However, the majority of employees (93 per cent) said they had responded to emails or phone calls after office hours during weekdays.
With technology keeping people tied to their devices and making them be “forever online,” Nair believes the proximity between employers and employees at all times — even outside business hours — has made urgent emails and last-minute work requests very common.
Nair also pointed out that during interviews, several managers highlighted how technology has enabled them to have their entire office within their “pockets”.
An interesting aspect however that emerged from the study was that while over half of respondents were reported to take work home mainly due to pressures, “compensation for personal life” was also listed as another reason for Leaveism. Close to one-fourth of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they indulged in work to make up for not having much to do in their personal lives.
Many employees who worked during their holidays or took work home may not have personal hobbies or do not have their families with them in the UAE, the study revealed.
Employees, the study suggested, seemed to be indulging almost voluntarily in Leaveism behaviours.
The study also indicated that a majority of employees consider their work as an integral part of their lives and give it high priority.
These findings were also in line with previous studies conducted in the UK. According to four academic studies in the UK, which focused on aspects of Leaveism, employees consider different ‘advantages’ to practising Leaveism behaviours.
“Some of the advantages perceived by employees [who indulge in Leaveism] may include having a clear personal record, better performance scores, financial gains and redundancy exemptions,” said Nair.
She explained that based on employees’ personalities, Leaveism may give enjoyment or satisfy their sense of duty toward their organisation when they practise it at their own discretion.
However, these ‘advantages’ do not last long, as with prolonged blurring of the lines between work and rest, the individuals eventually get affected, added Nair.
Cost of Leaveism
The Leaveism studies also point out that organisations seldom notice the costs associated with Leaveism behaviours, which not only impact employee productivity in the long run, but also organisational performance.
“It can also impact employee’s personal life and their resilience. The other disadvantages include a decrease in organisation’s bottom-line and operational effectiveness and increase in employee’s stress and anxiety,” said Nair.
Organisations need to realise that the current definition of an ideal worker — one who is connected 24/7 to work — comes at a significant cost to both employees and their firms, said Nair.
“By considering work output and not time clocked as a relevant measure of employee productivity and commitment, and by recognising the importance of employees’ lives outside the office, employers will be able to create a workplace culture that fosters creativity, well-being and above all, an engaged workforce,” explained Nair.
After investigating whether there would be any decrease in Leaveism behaviours in organisations which have Flexible Work Practices (FWP), Nair reported no direct correlation.
“However, FWP was seen to help reduce the main Leaveism trigger — work overload. It was also clearly seen to have increased employee commitment,” she said.
Findings of many studies have shown that for people to be seen as ideal workers committed to their jobs, they seem to be choosing to prioritise their work ahead of other aspects of their lives, including their mental and physical health, family needs, personal hobbies and social relationships.
A study of 1,000 working parents in UK published in the Modern Families Index last year found that employees often put in an additional 10 hours a week.
This reportedly led to nearly a third of them (29 per cent) feeling burned out, and close to half the participants (40 per cent) being unable to cope with familial obligations.
“Working non-stop while on leave or during one’s personal time on regular days/weekends leads to burnout,” highlighted Nair.
Even though US workers are reportedly using lesser vacation days (fallen from 20.3 in 2000 to 16 days a year in 2015), many continued to work via phones and laptops when they do go on leave, as reported by the Society of HR Management (SHRM).
A Bayt.com survey (2,773 respondents), which was reported by Gulfbusiness.com in 2014, found 86.5 per cent of employees in MENA region continued to work even during holidays with tasks ranging from checking and responding to mails, to staying contactable at all times.
Technology has blurred lines between workplace and home
Dubai: Although the term ‘Leaveism’ was coined recently, the concept is not a new phenomenon, said a Dubai career expert.
Rania Nseir, Director of Business Development, Bayt.com pointed out the challenges that arise whenever employees are under pressure – due to a heavy workload or lack of work-life balance. In fact this issue has been around for a long time, said Nseir.
“It may be that the changing work environment, due to technological or even economic occurrences, have lead to increasingly stressed employees in recent years,” she said.
She referred to the findings of a poll by Bayt.com on ‘Stress in the Mena workplace,’ which showed that around 52 per cent of respondents agreed that workplaces nowadays are more stressful than they were a few years ago and 35 per cent of them believe that they spend too much time at work.
“Nobody can deny the huge impact of technology in the workplace,” said Nseir.
She explained that the possibilities to connect with others, accomplish tasks, and organise projects through technology have in many cases increased the efficiency and productivity of employees. However, technology has also “brought changes to the work requirements, skills in demand, and even the day-to-day dynamics in the workplace, and to many professionals, these changes can be unsettling,” explained Nseir.
The poll also showed that 42.1 per cent of respondents claimed that technology (i.e. emails, smartphones) makes their jobs less stressful, almost the same proportion (40 per cent) think the opposite, claiming that such technology makes their jobs more stressful. “What these numbers suggest is that it is really dependent on the individual employee and how they deal with technology in their jobs,” explained Nseir.
In another Bayt.com poll on Happiness and Personal fulfilment in the Mena, 71 per cent of professionals stated that they are stressed on a daily basis, and one third (33 per cent) of professionals who responded to the poll also said that a better work-life balance would cause them to feel more fulfilled overall.
“The causes of stress can vary between financial obligations, job requirements, and personal matters,” pointed out Nseir.
She explained that while some employees want to impress their bosses or demonstrate their value to the company by putting in the extra hours of work, others simply lack the time-management skills.
While employers play a major role in enhancing their employees’ wellbeing and empowering them to achieve work-life balance, employees should also feel equally responsible for achieving their work-life balance.
“This starts as early as being a job seeker. As an employee, you have the right to speak to your manager when you feel that your workload is unbearable. You should also know when to draw the line and when to take your well-deserved breaks,” said Nseir.
Facts and figures:
96% of respondents to the Bayt.com poll: Health and Lifestyle in the Middle East and North Africa, believe it is the employer’s responsibility to promote the employee’s health and well-being.
77.4% of respondents to the bayt.com poll: Stress in the MENA Workplace, believe they could do a much better job if they were given more time.
52% of respondents agreed that workplaces nowadays are more stressful than they were a few years ago
35% of respondents believe that they spend too much time at work
15% of respondents to the Bayt.com Survey: Job Satisfaction in the Middle East and North Africa, believe that their company shows a strong interest in the wellbeing of its employees
75% of professionals claim that working in a flexible environment is important to them.
Tips for employers- to help employees achieve work-life balance:
Employers must assess workload and working hours by taking a look at their employees’ tasks, projects, and responsibilities and see whether their workload is realistically achievable within their regular working hours
Employers must communicate with your employee to check in with them, gain their feedback, and understand how you can help them achieve work-life balance
Employers must offer more flexibility and help their employees be healthier and more balanced by offering them flexible hours, remote work options, or similar arrangements that can make their working days less stressful and much more productive.
Corporate Wellness Programmes in UAE
While the concept of ‘Leaveism’ seems to be a common practice among employees in the UAE, more companies in the country are implementing wellness programmes in the office.
A recent MEED survey of 136 companies showed 66 per cent of respondents are now implementing wellness programmes in the office, with the aim of giving their staff a wellness boost to promote health and wellbeing as well as encourage better employee engagement. This showed an increase from 45 per cent of companies in the previous year.
“This is a great improvement from just a year ago, an encouraging sign that bodes well for not just the individual welfare of employees, but also the overall wellbeing of the company,” says Dr. Michael Bitzer, CEO at National Health Insurance Company – Daman.
The study was conducted ahead of the 2017 launch of the Daman Corporate Health Awards, which has become an important benchmark of corporate health and wellness across businesses in the UAE.
UAE residents talk about work-life balance
Umakanth Devarajan, 49, Indian, works in the contracting industry
However, this isn’t always the case. Devarajan said that he sometimes has to check documents himself because it’s his area of expertise.
The extra work is not a job requirement and his bosses don’t push him to do it but as the head of his department, he feels the responsibility to ensure that things don’t go out of control while he’s away.
Shaikha Al Shamsi, 55, Emirati, education sector
When she does work during her off time, it can take up between an hour to five hours of her time, despite the fact that she does it voluntarily. As an educator she has a lot of passion for her work and wants to make sure that her team always meets its objectives.
However, she added, “It is important during holidays to separate oneself from any job-related tasks or activities. It is the time to refresh and recharge our energy to be able to resume work with enthusiasm and motivation.”
Grace Morales, 41, Filipino, academic advisor
“Since I’m expected to do my work in a timely fashion, I am compelled to work while on vacation,” she said. In fact, even on regular days, she voluntarily works for an extra hour or two, though she would like to spend more time with her sons instead.
She however advises people to separate work from holiday, and emphasised the importance of unwinding and relaxing during off hours. Sometimes, when people work even during vacations, they could be sending the message to their office that they are happy to do so, she said.
Balqees Basalom, Saudi, 22, journalism and event management
Basalom said she used to take work along on vacations in some cases, like when there was a new task and she did not have time to finish it before proceeding on leave. She also replies to all work emails, she said.
“I did this voluntarily at first, then my direct manager took advantage of it and sometimes would ask me to do tasks while I’m on vacation,” she said.
Now she doesn’t take work along on holiday anymore because she feels it would spoil her holiday. She now logs off her email on her phone, exits all company group chats or puts them on the silent, and turns off the company phone.
Alex Malouf, British, working in marketing communications