More than half of employees in the UAE take work home with them – and they even do so on vacation, according to new research.

The practice, known as ‘leaveism’, has been increasing over the past decade as people find themselves under time pressure in the office. But a study recently carried out by Middlesex University Dubai MBA student Lakshmi Nair revealed that more than half of respondents said they worked during their vacations, from several times a week to as much as several times a day.

In addition to carrying out work outside office hours, leaveism also occurs when employees use allocated time off, such as annual leave entitlements, when in fact they are unwell.

Work Life Integration and Leaveism: a study of workplace practices in business excellence award-winning organisations in the UAE analyses the responses of more than 500 employees. It claims to be one of the first studies of its kind in the UAE and sets out to uncover the extent of leaveism in the country, what its triggers are and what the impact on flexible work arrangements (FWA) are on its prevalence.

“With the current market dynamics, slowdown in economy and large-scale redundancies, employees are having to deal with work overload and increased job pressures, making leaveism even more significant in this region,” said Nair.

His research found that while the practice is predominantly discretionary, there are indications that it is being enforced as well. Work overload is unsurprisingly the key trigger for leaveism, however Nair said that no direct link could be found between employees’ ability to utilise FWA and the frequency with which they undertake leaveism – but he notes the concept of FWA is relatively new in the region.

Nair recommends organisations “adopt measures to identify the costs related to leaveism and productivity losses; role-model managers to facilitate healthy work-life integration; improve internal efficiencies to work smarter; and introduce various flexible practices to tap into various benefits for both the organisation as well as the employee”.

Leaveism was first identified as an issue in the UK. CIPD president Professor Sir Cary Cooper, who has studied the phenomenon, said that “leaveism undoubtedly, and significantly, skews the true picture of workplace wellbeing.

“For example, in some organisations employees have a quota of sickness, which, if exceeded (such as by taking three or more days off sick, or having three or more occasions of sickness absence within a set period, etc), somehow reflects poor performance,” said Cooper. “Taking annual leave rather than sickness leave therefore makes a lot of sense to an employee who is worried about their perceived job performance.”

Research carried out with colleague Dr Ian Hesketh found that 76 per cent of employees who have practised leaveism did so in order to avoid being labelled a poor performer or being perceived as unable to cope with their workload. “This may lead to sickness absence going underreported,” he said.

Media Centre

If you’re a journalist or member of the press looking for more information or to speak to one of our experts, please contact our press team. 

Callout Image

Championing better work and working lives

About the CIPD

At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.