the Power of Disconnecting and Annual Leave

the Power of Disconnecting and Annual Leave

Agora #90

The Right to Disconnect and the utilization of annual leave are crucial for employee well-being and productivity.

Unveiling the Power of Disconnecting and Annual Leave for Employee Well-being

  • Trends and policies regarding annual leave in different countries.
  • The potential consequences of insufficient or underutilised annual leave.


In the fast-paced and hyperconnected world we live in, achieving a harmonious work-life balance has become an elusive challenge. As technology blurs the boundaries between work and personal life, individuals find themselves constantly connected, often struggling to disconnect from work-related responsibilities and obligations. In response to this growing concern, countries and organizations around the world have begun recognizing the importance of prioritizing employee well-being by embracing the concept of the “Right to Disconnect”. This right emphasizes the need for individuals to have the freedom and autonomy to disengage from work during non-working hours, allowing them to fully rejuvenate and recharge.

This article aims to explore the trends and policies regarding annual leave, shedding light on how various nations but also the EU have recognized its importance in promoting employee well-being. Additionally, it delves into the potential consequences that arise when annual leave is insufficient or underutilized. By examining these aspects, we can gain a comprehensive understanding of the value and impact of annual leave on individual well-being and overall productivity. Through the lens of the EU Staff Regulations, which provide guidelines for EU institutions and agencies, we will uncover the foresight and emphasis placed on the Right to Disconnect and annual leave.

By understanding the significance of the Right to Disconnect and the utilization of annual leave, we can uncover strategies and best practices that foster employee well-being and unlock productivity. Furthermore, we can cultivate workplace cultures that prioritize work-life balance and acknowledge the importance of personal time for employees’ holistic development and satisfaction.

Annual Leave: Unleashing Well-being and Productivity Power

Employee well-being is a critical factor in maintaining a healthy and productive workforce. Annual leave serves as a valuable tool in promoting employee well-being by allowing individuals to take a break from work-related responsibilities and recharge both physically and mentally.

Taking regular time off through annual leave enables employees to rejuvenate and recuperate from the demands of their work. It provides an opportunity to relax, unwind, and engage in activities that promote physical health, such as exercise, leisurely pursuits, and adequate rest. Physical well-being is closely linked to mental well-being, and the time away from work allows employees to focus on self-care and address any stress or physical ailments they may be experiencing.

Moreover, annual leave plays a crucial role in preventing burnout, a state of chronic exhaustion and mental fatigue caused by prolonged work-related stress. By taking regular breaks, employees can mitigate the risk of burnout and maintain a healthier work-life balance. This, in turn, contributes to improved job satisfaction and reduces the likelihood of turnover, as employees feel more fulfilled and satisfied with their work.

Annual leave also provides employees with the opportunity to spend quality time with their loved ones, fostering stronger personal relationships and enhancing overall happiness. Relationships with family and friends are important contributors to overall well-being, and having dedicated time away from work allows individuals to nurture these connections and create lasting memories. Additionally, engaging in hobbies and pursuing personal interests during annual leave contributes to a sense of fulfilment and self-actualization, further enhancing overall life satisfaction.

From an organizational perspective, supporting employee well-being through the utilization of annual leave has a direct impact on productivity. Employees who are well-rested and have had the opportunity to recharge during their time off are more likely to bring their best selves to work. They are more focused, energized, and motivated, leading to increased productivity and better overall performance. Furthermore, organizations that prioritize employee well-being and provide sufficient annual leave demonstrate their commitment to creating a healthy work environment, which can boost employee morale and loyalty.

However, it is important to note that the potential consequences of insufficient or underutilized annual leave can be significant. When employees do not take adequate time off, they are more susceptible to experiencing high levels of stress, fatigue, and decreased job satisfaction. This can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and even long-term negative health effects. Organizations that fail to recognize and prioritize the importance of annual leave may face higher turnover rates, reduced employee engagement, and decreased overall organizational performance.

Annual leave is a vital component of employee well-being and productivity. It provides employees with the necessary time to rest, rejuvenate, and engage in activities that contribute to their overall physical and mental health. By embracing annual leave, organizations can foster a healthier and more productive workforce, leading to increased job satisfaction, higher employee retention rates, and improved organizational outcomes. Recognizing the value of annual leave and encouraging its utilization is a win-win situation for both employees and organisations.

The EU Staff Regulations and the Right to Disconnect

The EU Staff Regulations stand as a progressive and forward-thinking framework that addresses the evolving challenges of the modern work environment. Recognizing the detrimental effects of constant connectivity and the blurring boundaries between work and personal life, the EU has taken a proactive approach to safeguarding the Right to Disconnect for its employees.

Within the EU Staff Regulations, clear guidelines are established regarding working hours, rest periods, and annual leave for EU staff. These guidelines set limits on the maximum number of working hours per week, ensuring that employees are not excessively burdened by work responsibilities. By setting these boundaries, the regulations aim to prevent work-related stress and burnout, promoting a healthier and more sustainable work-life balance.

However, it is essential to take a critical approach and examine potential challenges and limitations associated with these regulations. While the EU Staff Regulations provide guidelines on working hours, rest periods, and annual leave, the actual implementation and enforcement of these regulations can vary across different EU institutions and agencies. In some cases, employees may still face pressure to work long hours or remain connected to work outside of designated working hours, despite the regulations in place. This discrepancy between policy and practice can undermine the intended benefits of the Right to Disconnect and annual leave.

Furthermore, the EU Staff Regulations apply specifically to EU institutions and agencies, leaving employees in other sectors and industries without the same level of protection and support. This discrepancy raises questions about fairness and equity, as individuals outside the EU institutions may face challenges in exercising their Right to Disconnect and accessing adequate annual leave.

In addition, the regulations may not fully address the complexities of the modern work environment. With advancements in technology, teleworking, or other hybrid forms, many employees are expected to be available and responsive beyond traditional working hours. The regulations may struggle to keep up with these evolving expectations, leaving employees in a constant state of connectivity and reducing their ability to fully disconnect and recharge during their time off.

Moreover, the regulations may not address the cultural and organizational factors that perpetuate a workaholic mentality or discourage employees from taking their entitled annual leave. Workplace cultures that prioritize long hours and constant availability can undermine the intent of the regulations, leading employees to underutilize their annual leave or feel guilty for disconnecting from work.

To maximize the benefits of the Right to Disconnect and annual leave, it is crucial to ensure effective implementation, enforcement, and awareness. Employers must actively promote a culture that values work-life balance and respects employees’ need for rest and personal time. Training and education initiatives can also play a significant role in raising awareness about the importance of disconnecting from work and utilizing annual leave for well-being and productivity.

Trends and Policies Regarding Annual Leave

Countries worldwide have recognized the importance of annual leave and have implemented various policies to ensure employees can enjoy their entitlements. These policies reflect the commitment of governments and organizations to prioritize employee well-being, work-life balance, and overall productivity. Let’s explore some notable trends and policies in different regions:

The European Commission, as one of the institutions of the European Union, upholds the importance of annual leave as outlined in the EU Staff Regulations. These regulations set the framework for annual leave entitlements for employees working within the EU institutions and agencies, including the European Commission.

According to the EU Staff Regulations, employees of the European Commission are entitled to a minimum of 24 days of annual leave per year. This minimum requirement ensures that employees have a substantial amount of time to disconnect from work, recharge, and engage in activities that promote their well-being.

Moreover, the EU Staff Regulations go beyond the minimum requirement of annual leave by allowing for additional leave entitlements based on various factors. For instance, employees may be granted additional leave based on their age, length of service, or other specific circumstances. This recognition of additional leave entitlements reflects the understanding that different employees may have unique needs and circumstances that warrant additional time off.

The digital transformation and the rise of telework have created challenges in defining and regulating the right to disconnect. While there is no EU legal framework specifically addressing this right, certain regulations indirectly relate to it, such as the Working Time Directive. Recent European initiatives, like the European Pillar of Social Rights, prioritize work-life balance without explicitly mentioning the right to disconnect. The European Parliament has taken steps to protect this right, and the European Commission supports social partners in developing tailor-made solutions. The Commission also plans to analyse telework’ s implications and work towards ensuring decent working conditions. The Council calls for national strategies and policies on telework and strengthened labour inspection. While the Commission has announced a comprehensive approach to mental health, it does not specifically mention the right to disconnect. However, ongoing social dialogue and negotiations are taking place, and the Commission is committed to following up on the Parliament’s resolution.

As mentioned before, while the EU Staff Regulations establish a framework for annual leave, the actual implementation and practice may vary across different EU institutions and agencies. Factors such as workload, organizational culture, and individual work units can influence how annual leave is utilized and respected within the European Commission. Therefore, ongoing efforts to ensure effective implementation, awareness, and adherence to the annual leave provisions are essential to maximize their impact on employee well-being and productivity.

European Countries

European countries, heavily influenced by the EU regulations, have established generous annual leave entitlements. For example, France grants employees a minimum of five weeks (or 25 days) of annual leave, ensuring ample time for rest, relaxation, and personal pursuits. Similarly, Germany mandates a minimum of four weeks (or 20 days) of annual leave. These policies acknowledge the importance of providing employees with sufficient time off to rejuvenate and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Below, we have cases from EU countries, around the world, but also from specific companies:

France: In France, annual leave is highly valued and protected by law. The country has a legal minimum of five weeks of annual leave for all employees, ensuring that individuals have an extended period to disconnect from work and enjoy personal time. This emphasis on annual leave promotes a culture of work-life balance, leading to higher employee satisfaction and overall well-being.

Netherlands: In the Netherlands, the annual leave entitlement is set at a minimum of four times the number of days an employee works per week. For example, if an employee works five days a week, they would be entitled to a minimum of 20 days of annual leave per year. This approach ensures that employees have sufficient time off to recharge and enjoy personal pursuits outside of work.

Finland: In Finland, employees are entitled to a minimum of 30 days of annual leave per year. This generous provision allows employees to have an extended period of rest and recreation, supporting their overall well-being and work-life balance.

Sweden: In Sweden, the concept of “Allmansrätt” or “freedom to roam” is highly valued. This cultural practice, protected by law, combined with generous annual leave policies, encourages individuals to take time off work to explore nature and engage in outdoor activities. This focus on leisure and connection with nature contributes to employee well-being and mental rejuvenation.

New Zealand: In New Zealand, the concept of “Annual Closedown” is widely practiced in various industries, particularly during the Christmas and New Year periods. Many businesses shut down for a few weeks, allowing employees to enjoy an extended break and spend time with their families. This practice not only promotes employee well-being but also contributes to a more inclusive and family-friendly work environment.

United States: In contrast to European countries, the United States does not have federal laws mandating annual leave. However, some states have taken steps to address this issue. For instance, California has implemented its own regulations, such as the California Paid Sick Leave law, which requires employers to provide a minimum of three days of paid annual leave after an employee’s first year of service. While such state-level initiatives are positive steps towards recognizing the value of annual leave, the overall absence of federal regulations in the United States leaves many employees with limited or no guaranteed annual leave entitlements.

Japan: Japan has recently introduced the “Premium Friday” initiative, aimed at promoting work-life balance and increasing employee well-being. Under this initiative, employees are encouraged to leave work early on the last Friday of every month. The goal is to create opportunities for employees to engage in personal activities, spend time with family, and pursue leisure interests. While “Premium Friday” is not a full day of annual leave, it reflects a growing recognition of the importance of time away from work and the need for greater work-life balance in a country known for its strong work culture.

Buffer: Buffer, a social media management company, implemented a policy called “Unlimited Vacation Time.” This policy allows employees to take as much annual leave as they need, as long as their work responsibilities are met. By providing such flexibility, Buffer recognizes the importance of autonomy and trust in fostering a healthy work-life balance. This approach has resulted in increased employee satisfaction, improved productivity, and reduced turnover.

Volkswagen: The German automobile manufacturer Volkswagen implemented a policy known as “Email-Free Fridays” to encourage work-life balance and the Right to Disconnect. On Fridays, employees are discouraged from sending work-related emails outside of their working hours, allowing them to fully disconnect and enjoy their personal time. This initiative aims to reduce burnout, improve well-being, and enhance productivity by promoting a healthy separation between work and personal life.

These examples demonstrate how different countries, institutions and companies have recognized the importance of annual leave in promoting employee well-being and productivity. By implementing policies and practices that encourage the utilization of annual leave, organizations can create environments where employees feel supported, valued, and able to achieve a healthy work-life balance, higher employee satisfaction, improved productivity, and overall organizational success.

It is worth noting that annual leave policies can vary not only between countries but also within industries, sectors, and organizations. While legislative requirements provide a baseline, many employers choose to exceed these minimums to attract and retain talent, create positive work environments, and support employee well-being. Striking a balance between legislative regulations and voluntary employer initiatives is crucial to fostering a culture that values and respects the importance of annual leave for employees.

In conclusion, global trends and policies regarding annual leave reflect an evolving understanding of the significance of work-life balance and employee well-being. While some countries have established comprehensive regulations guaranteeing generous annual leave entitlements, others are in the process of developing initiatives to promote a healthier work culture. By recognizing the importance of annual leave and implementing supportive policies, countries and organizations can create environments that prioritize employee well-being, foster productivity, and contribute to a more balanced and fulfilling work-life experience.

Always On The Allure of 24/7 Connectivity

The phenomenon of employees voluntarily choosing not to disconnect from work outside of working hours due to silent competition or the pressure to prove their availability can have significant impacts on their well-being and work-life balance. In some workplaces, there may be an unspoken expectation for employees to constantly be connected and responsive, creating an environment where individuals feel the need to compete with their colleagues in terms of availability and responsiveness.

For example, in a fast-paced consulting firm, employees may engage in a silent competition to demonstrate their commitment by consistently being available to respond to client requests, even during evenings and weekends. They may fear that disconnecting would result in missed opportunities or being perceived as less dedicated compared to their colleagues who remain constantly accessible.

Similarly, in industries such as media or technology, where innovation and quick responses are highly valued, employees may feel compelled to be continuously plugged into work. They may feel that by being constantly available, they can stay ahead of their peers and prove their value to their managers and the organization.

An example within the context of EU staff can be seen among employees working in the European Commission. Within the Commission, there is often a culture of high expectations and a strong commitment to work, driven by the importance of the tasks and responsibilities involved in shaping and implementing EU policies. This culture can create an environment where employees feel the need to be constantly available and responsive, even outside of regular working hours.

For instance, EU staff members may feel the pressure to demonstrate their dedication and prove their availability to superiors and colleagues. They may voluntarily choose not to disconnect from work-related communication outside of working hours, fearing that disconnecting might hinder their opportunities for career advancement or be perceived as a lack of commitment to their roles.

This behaviour can lead to a cycle of constant connectivity, with employees feeling compelled to check emails, respond to messages, or engage in work-related discussions during evenings, weekends, or vacation periods. As a result, their personal time becomes increasingly intertwined with work, which can lead to high levels of stress, burnout, and difficulties in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

To address this issue, organizations can take proactive steps to foster a culture that values work-life balance and encourages employees to disconnect from work. This can involve implementing policies and practices that promote clear communication of expectations regarding availability outside of working hours. For example, some companies have established email curfew policies that encourage employees not to send or respond to work-related emails during evenings and weekends unless it’s urgent.

Managers also play a crucial role in setting the tone and modeling healthy work habits. By respecting boundaries and encouraging their team members to take time off and disconnect, managers can create an environment where employees feel supported in prioritizing their well-being.

Moreover, organizations can provide training and resources on time management, stress reduction, and the importance of work-life balance. This can help employees develop strategies for disconnecting and recharging, emphasizing the value of their personal time and the positive impact it has on their overall productivity and well-being.

Blurred Lines: When Telework Takes Away the Disconnect Button

Telework has revolutionized the way many individuals perform their jobs, providing flexibility and convenience. However, it has also introduced new challenges, particularly in relation to the right to disconnect. With the physical boundaries between work and personal life blurred, employees may find it increasingly difficult to disconnect from work-related tasks and demands. The absence of a clear separation between the workplace and the home environment can lead to a constant presence of work, causing employees to feel pressured to be perpetually available.

The convenience of technology and the ability to work remotely can inadvertently erode the boundaries that once existed, making it challenging for individuals to establish a healthy work-life balance. This continuous connectivity can result in heightened stress levels, reduced leisure time, and a sense of being constantly “on-call,” ultimately impacting employee well-being and potentially leading to burnout. It is crucial for organizations to acknowledge these negative impacts and establish policies and practices that support employees in disconnecting from work during non-working hours, allowing them to recharge and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

To avoid the negative impact of telework on the right to disconnect, organizations can implement several measures:

  • Clear Policies: Establish clear and comprehensive policies that outline expectations regarding work hours, availability, and communication outside of regular working hours. These policies should emphasize the importance of work-life balance and explicitly state that employees are not expected to be available at all times.
  • Communication Guidelines: Provide guidelines on appropriate communication practices, such as discouraging non-urgent emails or messages outside of working hours and encouraging respectful boundaries between work and personal time.
  • Training and Awareness: Conduct training sessions or workshops to educate employees and managers on the importance of disconnecting from work, managing boundaries, and promoting work-life balance. Raise awareness about the potential negative consequences of constant connectivity and the benefits of taking regular breaks.
  • Lead by Example: Managers and leaders should set a positive example by respecting boundaries and encouraging employees to disconnect. Avoid sending work-related emails or messages during non-working hours and foster a culture that values personal time and well-being.
  • Technology Guidelines: Provide guidance on the responsible use of technology to avoid over-reliance on devices and establish designated periods for disengagement from work-related applications or platforms.
  • Encourage Time Off: Actively encourage employees to utilize their annual leave and take regular breaks. Promote the benefits of rest and relaxation for overall well-being and productivity.
  • Support Systems: Offer employee support systems, such as access to counseling services or employee assistance programs, to address stress, burnout, or work-related concerns.
  • Performance Evaluation: Evaluate employees based on their quality of work, productivity, and accomplishments rather than their constant availability. Create performance evaluation criteria that prioritize outcomes rather than hours worked.
  • Foster a Positive Work Culture: Develop a supportive work environment that values work-life balance, encourages open communication, and respects employees’ personal time. Foster a culture where employees feel comfortable disconnecting without the fear of negative consequences.

By implementing these measures, organizations can help employees establish boundaries, promote a healthier work-life balance, and safeguard the right to disconnect in the context of telework.

As already mentioned, the European social partners (ETUC, Business Europe, SGI Europe and SME United) are continuing to negotiate a European framework agreement on hybrid work, the right to disconnect, organisation of work in particular the management of online workers and the link with working-time, health and safety, work life balance, surveillance, privacy, and data protection. If accepted by the European institutions, it will be implemented by the European Directive which member states will be required to transpose into national law, in line with previous recommendations of the European Parliament made in early 2021. This is a key signal that the European social partners are committed to being key actors in shaping the future labour market functioning, and the first time such an agreement would be implemented as a Directive since 2010.

Finally, a few European countries have taken steps to regulate teleworking:

Cyprus reviewed draft legislation in June 2023 on remote working, which regulates the rights and obligations of employers and employees. Specifically, it allows for voluntary teleworking upon agreement between the employer and the employee. The legislation also prohibits discrimination against teleworkers. Furthermore, the right to disconnect after working hours, meaning that the employee can fully disengage from work obligations outside working hours, is also regulated. However, this specific bill does not cover the Public Service, for which a separate framework is expected to be submitted to the Cabinet by the Ministry of Finance later in 2023.

Luxemburg, introduced in 2023 a new law that foresees a right to disconnect outside working hours into the Labour Code. In the case of non-compliance with the new regime by the employer, the Director of the Inspectorate of Labour and Mines (“ITM”) may impose administrative sanctions.

The Hidden Toll of Underused Annual Leave

Insufficient or underutilized annual leave can have severe consequences for both employees and organizations. When employees do not take enough time off, it can lead to a range of negative outcomes that impact their well-being, job satisfaction, and overall productivity. Let’s delve deeper into the potential consequences of insufficient or underutilized annual leave:

Increased Stress Levels: Continuous work without breaks can significantly elevate stress levels among employees. The absence of time to recharge and rejuvenate can result in chronic stress, which not only affects employees’ mental and physical health but also hampers their ability to perform optimally. Elevated stress levels can lead to decreased concentration, reduced creativity, and impaired decision-making skills, ultimately impacting overall productivity.

Decreased Job Satisfaction: Employees who do not take sufficient annual leave may experience decreased job satisfaction. The absence of regular breaks can create a sense of monotony and feelings of being overwhelmed by work responsibilities. This can lead to a decline in motivation, engagement, and enthusiasm for their roles, ultimately affecting their overall job satisfaction and loyalty to the organization.

Burnout and Mental Health Issues: Prolonged periods without adequate rest and time off can contribute to burnout, a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion. Burnout is often accompanied by feelings of cynicism, detachment, and reduced personal accomplishment. Additionally, the lack of opportunities to disconnect from work-related pressures can exacerbate mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. These conditions not only negatively impact individuals but can also have ripple effects on their colleagues and the overall workplace environment. In high-pressure work environments such as EU institutions, where employees often handle complex and demanding tasks, the risk of burnout can be elevated. Factors such as heavy workloads, long hours, tight deadlines, and high expectations can contribute to increased stress levels and exhaustion. Over time, this can lead to a decline in mental health, decreased job satisfaction, and reduced productivity.

The decline in Overall Well-being: Insufficient or underutilized annual leave can take a toll on employees’ overall well-being. Without regular breaks, individuals may struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance, neglect self-care routines, and experience a diminished sense of fulfillment and enjoyment outside of work. Neglecting personal relationships, hobbies, and leisure activities can lead to a sense of imbalance and dissatisfaction in life.

Higher Absenteeism Rates and Turnover: Organizations may face higher rates of absenteeism when employees are not granted or do not take sufficient annual leave. The accumulation of stress, burnout, and other health issues can lead to increased sick leave or the need for extended time off work to recover. Moreover, employees who feel overworked and undervalued due to a lack of adequate breaks may be more likely to seek employment elsewhere, resulting in higher turnover rates.

Reduced Employee Engagement: Insufficient or underutilized annual leave can also negatively impact employee engagement. When employees are constantly consumed by work without opportunities for rejuvenation, their motivation and commitment to the organization may wane. This can result in reduced productivity, decreased collaboration, and a decline in overall team morale.

Recognizing the consequences of insufficient or underutilized annual leave is crucial for both employees and organizations. Employers should prioritize and encourage their workforce to take regular breaks and utilize their annual leave entitlements to maintain a healthy work-life balance, preserve well-being, and foster a productive work environment. Promoting a culture that values and supports the utilization of annual leave can lead to increased job satisfaction, improved employee retention, and higher levels of overall organizational performance.

Here are some examples of incidents that demonstrate the consequences of insufficient or underutilized annual leave:

Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster: In 1986 the Chernobyl disaster, one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, was partially attributed to a culture of long working hours and insufficient time off for employees in the nuclear power industry. Fatigue and stress caused by extended shifts and a lack of adequate breaks contributed to human errors that led to the catastrophic event, resulting in significant environmental and human consequences.

France Telecom (now Orange): In the late 2000s, France Telecom experienced a series of employee suicides that brought attention to the work-related stress and demanding work environment within the company. Reports indicated that the company’s aggressive management style and pressure to meet performance targets led to a culture of overwork and limited annual leave, contributing to employee burnout and psychological distress.

Airline Pilots: The aviation industry has faced incidents and accidents attributed to pilot fatigue. For example, the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in 2009, which claimed the lives of 50 people, was partly attributed to pilot fatigue resulting from extended duty periods and inadequate rest time. This incident highlighted the importance of appropriate rest and scheduling practices to ensure pilot well-being and aviation safety.

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan was one of the most significant nuclear accidents in history. It revealed the importance of rest and time off for employees working in the nuclear industry. Reports indicated that the plant’s workers were overworked and had limited time off, which potentially contributed to lapses in judgment and safety protocols, leading to the disaster.

Volkswagen Scandal: In 2015, one of the most notorious incidents in the automotive industry, Volkswagen was embroiled in a scandal involving the manipulation of emission tests. It was later revealed that a contributing factor to this unethical behaviour was a toxic work culture that discouraged employees from taking time off, resulting in high levels of stress and intense pressure to meet targets. The lack of work-life balance and the absence of opportunities for employees to recharge and reflect likely played a role in the breakdown of ethical standards within the organization.

Goldman Sachs: In 2015, a Goldman Sachs intern, Moritz Erhardt, tragically passed away after reportedly working excessive hours over several consecutive days. This incident shed light on the intense work culture prevalent in the investment banking industry and sparked discussions about the importance of work-life balance and the potential risks associated with long working hours without adequate rest.

Amazon Warehouse Workers: In 2021, reports have emerged regarding the working conditions and demands faced by Amazon warehouse workers, particularly during peak periods such as Prime Day or the holiday season. Employees have spoken out about long shifts, limited breaks, and a lack of sufficient annual leave, which can contribute to physical and mental strain, fatigue, and increased injury risks.

During Greece’s economic crisis, the government implemented austerity measures aimed at reducing public spending and addressing the country’s financial challenges. As part of these measures, companies in Greece sought to cut costs and increase productivity. One approach taken by some companies was to reduce annual leave entitlements and require employees to work longer hours without adequate compensation or time off. The consequences of these measures were significant.

Employees in Greece faced increased workloads, higher stress levels, and reduced opportunities for rest and recuperation. The limited availability of annual leave meant that employees had fewer opportunities to take breaks, recharge, and attend to personal and family commitments. The impact on employee well-being was profound. Reports highlighted a rise in stress-related health issues, including burnout, anxiety, and depression, among workers in Greece. The lack of sufficient annual leave and work-life balance contributed to a decline in overall mental and physical well-being. Moreover, the absence of regular breaks and time off resulted in decreased job satisfaction, reduced productivity, and a negative impact on the quality of work[1].

The example from Greece’s economic crisis serves as a reminder of the consequences that can arise when annual leave is insufficient or underutilized. It demonstrates the importance of ensuring that employees have access to adequate rest and time off to maintain their well-being and perform effectively in the workplace. The incident highlights the need for companies and policymakers to prioritize work-life balance and protect employees’ rights to annual leave, even during challenging economic circumstances.

[1] Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (2018), Antigonos Sochos, Posttraumatic Stress During the Greek Economic Crisis: Is There Evidence for Mass Traumatization?, Volume18, Issue1, pages 265-283


The Right to Disconnect and the utilization of annual leave are crucial for employee well-being and productivity. Recognizing their significance, organizations should ensure employees have sufficient time to rest, rejuvenate, and pursue personal interests. Adequate annual leave utilization contributes to a healthier, happier workforce, enhancing productivity and reducing burnout. Implementing work-life balance policies allows employees to disconnect from work-related stressors, recharge their energy, and prioritize physical and mental well-being.

Conversely, insufficient or underutilized annual leave leads to increased stress, decreased job satisfaction, and reduced productivity. Organizations must actively promote and encourage annual leave utilization to mitigate these consequences, fostering a supportive culture and setting clear policies. The EU Staff Regulations serve as a valuable guideline emphasizing annual leave’s importance, inspiring other countries and organizations to prioritize employee well-being. Organizations cultivate a healthier workforce by respecting the Right to Disconnect and implementing adequate time off policies, improving productivity and job satisfaction.

The way forward involves:

  • Develop clear policies that protect the Right to Disconnect and establish guidelines for work hours, communication outside of working hours, and annual leave utilization.
  • Increasing awareness and providing education on work-life balance, the benefits of disconnecting, and the consequences of underutilized annual leave.
  • Encouraging and promoting the utilization of annual leave by creating a supportive environment and removing barriers to taking time off.
  • Establishing technology boundaries to ensure a healthy separation between work and personal life.
  • Providing managerial support by training managers to lead by example and respect employees’ right to disconnect.
  • Managing workloads effectively to avoid overwhelming employees and hindering their ability to disconnect and take annual leave.
  • Regularly evaluating and gathering feedback to improve policies and support the Right to Disconnect and annual leave utilization.
  • Regulate the Right to Disconnect on the EU level and implement the legal framework to national legislation.

By taking these steps, organizations and countries can prioritize work-life balance, support employee well-being, and effectively utilize annual leave.

Isidoros Tsouros


Isidoros Tsouros assumed the role of Research Assistant at EUAA in 2019. With over 25 years of experience as a legal professional, he has had a distinguished career, being elected as the President of a Greek Law Bar Association on two occasions. In 2022, he was elected to the USB Executive Committee as a representative from the Agencies Section. This article reflects his trade union perspective and is written in that capacity.