So far, employees in Belgium took even fewer holidays this year than in 2020, which already saw a decline due to the pandemic and its lockdowns, according to figures by HR service provider Acerta.
Before the coronavirus crisis, in 2019, Belgian companies achieved a holiday share of 4.8% in the same period, but that share made a big dip to 4.14% in the first Covid year of 2020.
In the first seven months of 2021, only 3.94% of workable hours were used to go on holiday, a trend that shows that Belgian employees are becoming less inclined to take holidays in the first half of the year, and are more likely to postpone them to later in the year.
"It is very important to acknowledge the holiday figures in time," said Acerta's holiday expert Marijke Beelen.
"Besides the fact that holidays are intended to allow employees to 'refuel' in good time, it is, in any case, a legal obligation to have the statutory holiday count at zero on 31 December," she added.
"With the figures for the period January-July 2021, we already know that it will take some catching up to get the balances back to zero," Beelen said.
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The number of holidays taken usually peaks in July, and this year was no different, according to Acerta's figures: July 2021 had a holiday share 15.5%, which is even slightly higher than in 2019.
However, this does not make up for the low holiday figures in the first six months of 2021, according to Beelen.
"There is no reason to think that August, which is the other popular holiday month, will provide more than a classic result to make up for the holiday figures," she said. "We may even see a declining rate due to the increase in red zones in popular holiday destinations."
The low holiday figures are partly explained by teleworking, uncertainty about travel possibilities, and temporary unemployment, according to the company.
These factors also played a role in 2020, and are causing more and more employees to postpone their holidays. But even if employees still have temporary unemployment status, holidays remain "necessary and interesting," said Beelen.
"Regardless, statutory holidays must be taken, and with the figures we are seeing today, in all sectors and at both large and small companies, employers had better not let this go unchecked," she added.
A catch-up operation is required, preferably as soon as possible, and organised by the employers, according to Acerta.
"Now is a good time to plan. An overview of [people's holiday] intentions - as far as they are known - can be a good and simple start," Beelen said. "If we put the puzzle together now, work and holiday will soon each get their fair share."