Taking Time Off: Reasons UK Office Workers Deem Acceptable

Taking Time Off: Reasons UK Office Workers Deem Acceptable

Read Time: 6 Minutes


24 Jul 2023

At some point in our lives, we have all experienced unexpected events that catch us off guard. Whether it's dealing with family issues or facing medical emergencies, there are instances when we need to take unplanned time off work. It's natural for most employers to be understanding and allow employees to take a discretionary day off for significant or emergency situations.

However, finding the right balance can be challenging. Employers must determine where to draw the line between supporting their employees during difficult times and maintaining the productivity and fairness of the workplace. The question arises: how far is too far when it comes to granting time off for unexpected circumstances?

To gain deeper insights into the experiences of employees taking time off work that isn’t for holiday or sickness, we quizzed over 1,000 UK office workers with the aim of uncovering their opinions on what they deem suitable reasons for having a day off work.


Employees Giving 100% Attendance

We asked our survey participants if they have ever taken discretionary time off (a day off authorised by their manager that is not holiday or sickness pay). Understandably, 58% of respondents answered ‘yes’ to taking time off, but a significant 36% shared ‘no’, they’ve never taken time off excluding holidays or sickness, either never having to deal with an unexpected event or possibly too afraid to take time off.


How Much Time Off Is Too Much?

We wanted to know, in the last year, how many days off our survey respondents have taken that weren’t holiday or sickness. A notable 66% shared that they haven’t taken any time off!

13% have taken just one day, 10% have taken two days, 3% have taken three days, 2% have taken four days but an interesting 6% have had five days or more.

Data revealed that 35-44-year-olds were most likely to have good attendance, with over a third of ‘none’ time off respondents falling into this age bracket. Interestingly, of those who revealed they have had 5 or more days off work in the last year, 50% were aged 18-34.


Leave Of Absence Lies

We asked our survey respondents if they had ever lied to get time off work. Whether that’s telling your boss your car has broken down or you’ve had a burst pipe, we wanted to know whether the reality is if they were actually nursing a hangover.

6% of respondents shared that they have indeed lied to their employer to get time off. A commendable 93% claimed to have never lied, but some respondents shared that they have ‘over-exaggerated their illness to have a day off’.

As part of our research, we also asked respondents if their manager has refused to give them time off because they deemed the reason to be unsuitable. Most respondents shared that their employer is fair with 87% sharing that their manager has never refused them time off. 5% shared that their employer has in fact denied them time off because they thought the reason was unsuitable.


Who Will You Be Asking?

81% of respondents shared that their manager takes discretionary leave case by case and makes fair decisions based on what they’ve been presented with, however, 2% shared that they believe their manager favours certain employees they let others have days off but not me’ and 5% shared that their employer doesn’t let anyone take time off at all.

Although 87% of respondents shared that their manager hasn’t refused them time off, only 57% shared that they feel comfortable asking for a discretionary day off.

18% shared that they don't feel comfortable asking for a day off and 16% shared that they only feel comfortable asking certain managers or leaders.

Interestingly, 57% of those who answered ‘No, I don't feel comfortable asking for a day off’ were women and 60% of those who answered ‘I only feel comfortable asking certain managers or leaders for a day off’ were also women. It seems that in the workplace, women are more reluctant to ask for time off when it’s not a holiday or for sickness.


More Than Meets The Eye

Although, so far, respondents have shared that they generally feel comfortable asking for time off and that their employer is willing to give it to them, it seems that there may be a bit of a catch.

• 28% of respondents shared that their employer has asked them to make the time back, working later or starting early.
• 17% shared that their employer asked if they can still work but from home.
• 15% have been asked to use their holiday or sick pay instead
• 6% were asked to provide proof of needing the time off.
• 4% shared that their employer deducted a day’s wage.


Employee Opinions

We surveyed respondents to get their opinions on discretionary time off.

Unsurprisingly 47% of respondents think time off is good and that everyone should be entitled to time off at their manager's discretion as long as it is reasonable.

42% shared that they think employees should be able to request whatever time off they deem suitable, as it’s hard to get appointments or do things outside of work hours.

8% believe there should be a strict policy in place that should be adhered to, outlining what you can and can’t do and they should be approved by HR

A mere 2% think they are pointless, employees should use their holiday or sickness pay or find an alternative.


Health is Our Priority

We wanted to get the low down on exactly what employees have taken time off for, as approved by their employer. Unsurprisingly health-related reasons ranked most popular.

Not so shockingly, funerals 42% and bereavement 38% took the top spot.

This was closely followed by doctors' appointments at 36% and dentist appointments at 23%.

Health was quite the contender with 22% taking time off for illness of a family member, friend or dependent, 21% for a medical emergency (car accident, A&E visit),  21% for a positive Covid test, 14% for a medical procedure or surgery, 13% for mental health and 9% for an opticians appointment.


What Else Are Employees Taking Time Off For?

Survey respondents also ranked taking time off for house problems such as a leak (16%), lack of childcare (12%), extreme weather (10%), administrative duties such as moving house or a driving test (9%) and car or transport trouble (9%).

Pets were also a reason for time off with 5% sharing they’ve had time off for the death of a pet and another 5% for pet illness.

Employees are also taking time off for the birth of a close family member or friend’s baby (or birth partner) at 4%, their child’s first day at school at 2%, attend graduation or celebration at 2% and legal duties such as attending court, also 2%.


How Far is Too Far?

We asked survey respondents to share with us reasons they deem suitable for taking time off work.

57% of respondents believe it’s acceptable to take time off work to take someone else to a hospital appointment.

57% also believe it’s acceptable to stay home from work if their child or dependent has been excluded or sent home. Over half of workers are happy to let their children’s bad behaviour interfere with their jobs.

Selfishly, 22% think they should get their birthday off.

33% would be happy to skip work to take their car for an MOT.

A fifth of respondents believe asking for the day off is okay if an important item is due to be delivered.

A shocking 17% think it’s reasonable to avoid coming to work due to a conflict or problem with a co-worker.

1 in 7 workers think they should get time off to go to the bank or post office.

Over 10% think hay fever and mild illness call for a day off.

1 in 12 employees believe in having time off for voluntary cosmetic procedures or surgery as well as dropping off or picking someone up from the airport.

Several survey respondents also shared under ‘other’ that they would deem ‘women's problems’, ‘period pain’, and ‘menstrual or post-menopause’ as reasons to take time off work.


Making Contact

We also asked respondents to share how they get in contact with their employer should they need to take discretionary time off.

• 45% disclosed that they speak to their employer in person
• 19% will ring their employer
• 16% send an email
• 7% would drop their employer a text
• 4% would message through a work channel such as slack or teams


Time To Find A New Job

As part of our research, we also asked our survey participants if being denied time off would affect the likelihood of them looking for another job.

52% disclosed that it would somewhat affect the likelihood of them looking for another job if their employer denied them time off.

33% answered ‘No, if my employer denied me time off I wouldn't look for another job’.

10% agreed ‘yes if my employer denied me time off I would look for another job’.

What do you think is an acceptable reason for taking time off work? Think employers are too relaxed or too strict? Let us know your thoughts on social media by using #instantprintuk!


About the Author

Hi, I’m Ally and I’m instantprint’s PR Lead. I enjoy writing content to help small businesses succeed and inspire them to get creative with their print marketing.