Working a straight 12 months without a proper break is not uncommon in New Zealand. The Holidays Act says employees need to work a full year before they are entitled to their statutory four weeks paid leave. You have to work six months before being entitled to paid sick leave.
Though plenty of good employers allow staff to take paid time off within the first 12 months on the job, plenty stick to the letter of the Holidays Act.
Pete is a bakery manager from the UK and since starting his job he has regularly worked unsocial hours, weekends and stat days to keep his employer’s bakery running smoothly, seven days a week.
Taking a sicky
After eight months, the near non-stop work started to take a toll on him and his young family, so he used sick days to rest and spend time with his wife and children.
He felt guilty because he had to let his employer down at short notice to phone in “sick”, but says there was no option during the first 12 months at the firm.
Wedding day blues
Roger works for a building maintenance company; he moved to New Zealand to marry his Kiwi girlfriend and start a new job. The crunch came when he applied to book time off for the wedding and honeymoon.
At the time he had been with the firm for five months, often working long days and some weekends in a physically demanding job.
“I had family and friends coming from all over the world and we wanted to spend a few weeks together,” says Roger. “I wanted to show off my new home — New Zealand — but my firm was adamant I couldn’t take any paid leave and so I took two weeks’ unpaid leave. I had no choice.
“I have never worked for a company where I have to wait 12 months to take a holiday — that has been a bit of a shock.”
Danny Gelb, an employment law advocate at Employment Law Advocacy and holds a postgraduate National Diploma in Dispute Resolution, says the law gives paid leave once the worker has hit their first anniversary on the job.
“However, there is nothing stopping an employer and employee agreeing that an employee can take leave,” he says.
“A common scenario you hit is that come Christmas, people who start part-way through the year don’t actually have any leave entitlements — but the company wants to close down over the Christmas period; then it is a case of agreeing that people take leave early.
“You are entitled to the statutory holidays though.”
Health and wellbeing
Legal niceties aside; the toll on mental health due to workers not having a real break concerns North Shore GP Dr Robin Kelly.
“After 38 years in general practice, I am seeing more and more people with work burnout. This is affecting their mental health and their immune systems.
“When they are at work, they are often not taking regular breaks, are deprived of sunlight and fresh air, and rushing their meals — often fast food on the run.
“It is common to find many are not offered holiday pay in their first year of employment, and are unable to take unpaid leave because of the high cost of living in Auckland. They are getting sick as a result, and exceeding their sick pay allowance which often only covers a few days.
“If they are a parent, they often use this allowance to look after their sick child. And so this is a compounding problem for many.”
The survey says
Plenty of surveys seem to show a link between working too much and conditions such as depression and heart disease.
One travel firm claims an annual holiday can cut risk of a heart attack by half. Cruise & Travel Partners may well have an agenda in linking holidays to improved health, but its findings are interesting, nonetheless.
It says people perform 25 per cent better on vigilance tests on returning from holiday and people aged 45-plus who have had a holiday improve by 50 per cent.
In a study by American Express, more than a third of small-business owners say their best ideas come during their downtime.
It follows that staff who are facing a long haul to a paid holiday may perform better at work having had some R&R. And according to researchers at Tel Aviv University, burnout decreases significantly when vacations are regularly taken.
Though Roger managed to negotiate his way through the holiday rules; Pete left his job as a bakery manager – a job that is on New Zealand’s skills shortage list – and is back in the UK.
First published in the New Zealand Herald.