Until recently, the idea of staying at home during your annual leave was a bit of a strange concept. There’s the whole world out there; why wouldn’t you want to see it?

Not all of us had the travel bug, of course, but now we’re all in the same boat. Travel is off the cards for a while. But annual leave is still being accrued by workers, and it’s their right to take it.

So what happens to booking leave during lockdown? Should you just forget it until things open up again? Or is now the best time to lock down that annual leave?

Let’s have a look at what it's like to plan leave during uncertain times.

The way we take annual leave will change in the short term

For now, there’s no point hoping for a summer trip away to somewhere sunny. Travel options are going to be severely limited for at least the rest of 2020.

So the idea of taking 2 or 3 weeks off at a time might not be as appealing to people that’d normally go on a big overseas adventure once a year. Facing 3 weeks of doing potentially nothing at home isn’t too attractive. This could lead to a change in the way some people book  their holidays, with shorter, more frequent blocks of time off.

Nobody knows when we’ll be given the ‘all clear’, or when gradual reopening of society will happen. Understandably, many people will have been focused on keeping their jobs and staying safe, but some will now remember they’ve got some annual leave stacked up.

Lots of companies that are still operating will have had annual leave as a low priority. But as they get used to this new way of doing things, there’ll be more space to talk about taking leave, and how it might work.

Stacking things up

What they'll want to avoid is everyone stacking up their leave now, and trying to take it all later in the year when things are settled down a bit.

This normally comes up as we approach year-end anyway, but now it’s more of a pressing issue. So in March 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced measures to protect key workers who’ve had to skip holidays during the crisis.

It applies to most employees, not just key workers, and means that those that haven’t taken all of their statutory leave entitlement due to the effects of the pandemic will now be able to carry it over into the next two leave years. So that should lower the probability of leave congestion in many circumstances.

That said, as you’ll know if you’ve read this blog before - taking holidays is really important. Resting properly is crucial for the health, sanity and productivity of everyone, and skipping it is a recipe for burnout. Especially for those on the frontlines of our national infrastructure who deserve a rest more than ever.

So for those that can take holidays at the moment - do it.

What does this mean for managers?

Pilita Clark shared some insight from the banking sector in a recent article in the Financial Times. City workers had been working long hours for weeks, and were asking for volunteers to cancel pre-booked Easter breaks.

"No one was risking their lives, as health workers around the world are. All were able to work at home, unlike the bus drivers, supermarket staff and couriers who do not have the choice. Yet they still faced a dilemma. If they failed to stay at their desk, how safe would their job be if their company started the cutbacks ripping through their industry? If they failed to take a holiday, how safe would their marriage — or mental equilibrium — be after yet another draining week of work?"

Discouraging holidays during busy times isn't ideal, but it's understandable in some circumstances. Although you'd hope anyone taking their rightful allowance wouldn't be punished in any way.

And then there’s the other approach, where managers are encouraging workers to take leave now while they have the chance, before calendars get too congested. It seems like this is being communicated on the fly, rather being official part of annual leave policy - but that’s to be expected when everything’s up in the air.

So what should managers do about leave bookings?

Well, there’s no ideal approach for everyone. It’s going to depend on the size and flexibility of your workforce, how much room you have to move shifts around, and what you expect your staffing levels to look like over the coming months. And that’s not an easy thing to predict these days.

You might have to make bookings provisional for a while until things stabilise, or bring in other creative ways to make things work.

If you have the ability, you should encourage staff to take their time off. Holidays at home aren't too appealing, but it's something we'll have to endure for the time being.

One thing’s for sure - it’s worth thinking about now rather than later.