Publishers are encouraging staff to continue taking holidays during the period of lockdown to allow for rest and recuperation. However a request from Bonnier Books UK for staff to use up half of their 28-day holiday allowance by 30th June, to avoid the absence of too many staff when the lockdown due to coronavirus is over, has been received badly by some employees. Hachette UK meanwhile is only allowing staff to take pro-rated holiday (i.e. up to a quarter of their total allocated leave) in the last quarter of the year.
At a time when across the trade many publication dates are being pushed back, and isolated staffers' mental health and well-being has also been a focus, in a company-wide email sent earlier this week, Perminder Mann, c.e.o. Bonnier Books UK, asked that "everybody" takes half of their 28-day holiday allocation before the end of June, saying it will "avoid too many of us being absent when we eventually return to our offices, at what will be a pivotal time".
In the email Mann struck a sympathetic tone, letting staff know she was here for them "as a colleague, and as a friend", but said it was "important ... to look towards the future and plan for when life returns to 'normal'". She said, "While everyone's holiday plans will have changed over the course of the last few weeks, this is a challenging time for us all and it's important we continue to take the time to rest and recuperate."
Reaction to the note has been mixed at the company, with one staff member saying they burst into tears on reading it. Preferring not to be named, they told The Bookseller: "Being trapped at home, and personally being alone, I have been having a tough time of it this last week. I was in a low place and felt disconnected both from work and from my own life and then I received the e-mail from Bonnier which made me cry ...
"Obviously, and Bonnier knows this, there is a high chance that we will all be stuck in lockdown until 30th June or close to then. Which means the holiday they are asking us to take is to sit in our homes, not experiencing any travel or experiences which usually make a holiday ... I cannot state enough that I, and I am sure many others at Bonnier, are already finding it hard through evenings and weekends as we are alone and there is not much to do when you are trapped at home in small flat rentals." Other staffers felt they were being "robbed of opportunities to visit family and friends once this is over", the employee said.
As Bonnier Books UK asks staff to take three holiday days over Christmas, using half their leave before the deadline date would mean staff have 11 days from 1st July onwards left.
A spokesperson for Bonnier Books UK has said it was "a request, more than a strict policy" and the company is "being flexible as we can be, and working with people to make it work for them".
Pan Macmillan has also encouraged staff to take holiday. It did so in one of its regular emails on mental health and well-being after noticing a number of employees were cancelling their leave. The publisher said it wanted to stress the importance of taking breaks.
HR director Rina Gulrajani told staff: "As we are all realising, working from home, and having to juggle all sorts of other home responsibilities can be very taxing, and therefore we would encourage everyone to consider taking some leave during this period of working from home, even though we cannot travel. This will be important for everyone's wellbeing, especially given the likelihood that this period of working from home may extend beyond the three weeks we have planned currently."
At Hachette UK, employees are also being "encouraged" to take time off regularly, "even if they cannot travel" and it will only be possible to take pro-rated holiday in its "busiest" quarter, Q4. It will be possible to roll over holiday at the company into 2021, however.
A spokesperson for HUK said: "2020 has presented some unique challenges, so we're encouraging our people to take time off regularly over the course of the year to support their physical and mental wellbeing, even if they cannot travel. They will be able to take pro-rated holiday in the last quarter – which is the busiest in the publishing calendar and likely to be even busier this year – and we're also allowing them to carry over additional days into 2021 if they're unable to take them this year."
Penguin Random House UK also "encouraged colleagues to take adequate rest breaks, even if they are staycations", although it is not insisting its people take holiday. It is also allowing staff to carry over more leave "to account for cancelled holidays". A spokesperson clarified this applies to colleagues who are rolling over holiday in 2020, i.e. from the period running from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020, into the period 1st April 2020 to 31st March 2021.
Val Garside, HR director:, said: "We want to support colleagues during this difficult time, so have adapted our holiday guidelines to offer the flexibility to carry over more annual leave than usual, to account for cancelled holidays during the current travel restrictions. At the same time, we know that working from home can be mentally tiring – particularly for parents or caregivers – and have encouraged colleagues to take adequate rest breaks, even if they are staycations. Of course, the situation continues to change rapidly and we will review our policy on an ongoing basis."
According to Acas, employers have the right to make changes to when staff take holiday if they need to. But if an employer needs a member of staff to take holiday, they should tell them "at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need you to take".