Over the years I’ve met many people with demanding workloads who seemed genuinely puzzled that they always fell ill as soon as they took annual leave. Little did they know that researchers already had an explanation for this: – chronic stress suppresses the immune system, and taking time out causes the repressed symptoms of stress and exhaustion to come to the foreground.
This (unconscious) postponement of illness to a more appropriate time when it won’t interfere with work commitments meant that many employers have remained oblivious to the affect of poor working practices. After all employees who have used their holidays for recovery rather than relaxation and leisure don’t usually register on the sickness absence data. But it seems, that’s about to change.
The European Court of Justice has just ruled that employees who fall sick during their annual leave have the right to re-take that annual leave at a later date. Previously their ruling allowed employees who fell ill before they were due to take annual leave to postpone their annual leave, whereas this new ruling means that irrespective of when they fall ill, employees have the right to postpone their annual leave until they are well enough to take it. Of course, whether in practise the highly committed worker will report their sickness and rearrange their annual leave remains to be seen, but one thing’s for certain, if the stressors of their jobs remain those, returning to work after a holiday filled with headaches or sneezes, won’t stay recovered and effective for long.
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BBC News (June 21, 2012). EU court: Workers sick on leave can get extra time off. BBC. Accessed on 30 June 2012 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18534028
Moss, R. (June 21, 2012). Employees sick while on annual leave can retake time off. Personnel Today. Accessed on 29 June 2012 from http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2012/06/21/58602/employees-sick-while-on-annual-leave-can-retake-time.html
Van Heck, G.L., & Vingerhoets, A.J.J. (2007). Leisure sickness: A biopsychosocial perspective. Psychological Topics, 16, 187-200.
Vingerhoets, A.J.J.M., Van Huijgevoort, M., & Van Heck, G.L. (2002). Leisure sickness: A pilot study on its prevalence, phenomenology, and background. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 71, 311-317.