Employees in Belgium took very few days off in the first half of 2021 for the second year in a row, with 30- to 45-year-olds having postponed taking paid leave more than 25-year-olds.
Compared to 2019, before the start of the pandemic, 15% fewer holiday days were taken in the first six months of this year, according to research by SD Worx, an HR service provider.
"In January and March, in particular, fewer holidays were taken than in a 'normal year' (such as 2019)," said Geert Vermeir, an expert at SD Worx.
"The first half of the year is over, but employees still have more than half of their holidays left, the difference is huge. The difference between 2020 and 2021 is smaller," he added.
The company's research, based on the payroll data of 70,000 employers and almost a million private-sector employees, found that under-25s have taken less than five days' holiday so far, but have taken more holidays in June than in previous years, whilst only those aged over 60have their 20 days spread evenly over the year.
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Most strikingly, employees between 30 and 45 years postpone the most, as they have taken 7% less holiday since the start of the year, however, it is possible they will also start taking more holidays during the second half of the summer.
The lockdown and travel ban at the start of the year resulted in people being hesitant to take holidays, as they couldn't travel abroad during the Carnival and Easter holidays.
"Travelling abroad was difficult and often even impossible. Few people went skiing, meaning most did not take holidays," Vermeir said.
"There was also temporary unemployment in, amongst others, the catering and event sectors. In the care sector, the work pressure was so high that there was little opportunity for holidays," he added.
Others may have been waiting for the implementation of the EU Digital Travel Certificate, which facilitates easier travel during the pandemic within the EU.
Puzzling in autumn time
This hoarding of paid leave means a lot of employers will be contending with a backlog of holidays during the second half of the year.
Every employee must take his statutory holidays before 31 December of the current year, and holidays cannot be carried over to the subsequent year, meaning employees lose holidays they don't take before the end of 2021, whilst the employer risks an administrative fine.
Vermeir warned that companies should start planning for autumn and winter now, and should encourage employees to align their schedules and avoid disappointment.
"As an employer, you had better make sure that your employees use all their holidays. We should not worry about the postponement yet, but it is important that companies and employees keep an eye on it," Vermeir said.