Q&A: 'What can I do if I want to cancel my annual leave?'

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 18 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

All employees can take annual leave, regardless of their job title, although the exact amount you can take typically depends on what you've agreed with your employer. Taking annual leave helps you to achieve a better work-life balance, but there are some circumstances where it might be necessary to cancel your annual leave. Knowing what to do in this situation and understanding more about cancelling annual leave more generally can be very useful. In this article, we answer 'What can I do if I want to cancel my annual leave?', alongside other frequently asked questions concerning this topic.

What can I do if I want to cancel my annual leave?

If you've arranged time off work but are now thinking 'I want to cancel my annual leave', inform your employer as soon as possible. Different employers manage annual leave requests in different ways. For example, it might be necessary for you to discuss your requests with your line manager or the HR department. After determining who to speak to, it's advisable to inform the relevant contact in writing about your change of plans and confirm how much annual leave you have left after cancelling. Additionally, it's a good idea to get confirmation from your employer that they've accepted your request.

Before you cancel your annual leave, it's a good idea to be certain that this is what you want to do. The reason for this is that you may appear unprofessional if you change your mind about your plans again. Due to this, it's worthwhile to consider your options and be certain that you want to cancel your time off altogether before you proceed.

Related: A guide to creating holiday request forms in your workplace

When do I tell my employer about cancelling my annual leave?

It's sensible to inform your employer about the cancellation as soon as possible so they can update their annual leave records. This also helps other team members to plan their own annual leave. Cancelling at the last minute is often acceptable if your circumstances require you to make changes at short notice, but it's generally courteous to tell your employer as soon as you're sure of your plans as this minimises disruption to the organisation's operations as much as possible.

Why would you cancel your annual leave?

There are several reasons why you might cancel your annual leave. In some cases, your plans might change. For example, you may have planned a trip that's later cancelled, which means you no longer require the time off work. You might also make new plans for later in the year and may want to save your paid time off to use at a later date. Cancelling plans and rescheduling them for later might also mean you want to cancel your annual leave.

Another reason why someone might cancel their annual leave is if they feel that they have too much work to do. Feeling this way might indicate that your workload is too heavy. If this is the case, it's advisable to speak to your manager about your concerns and find ways to address them so you can still take your annual leave. Discussing who's free to cover your responsibilities while you're away from work and creating a handover is also helpful in this situation. If your annual leave is unpaid, concerns about money might also encourage you to consider cancelling it.

Do I cancel my leave if I requested more than my allowance?

If you request more annual leave than what you're entitled to, your employer usually informs you of this and gives you the option to cancel the additional days. Some employers also allow you to take additional annual leave that's unpaid, so you can choose to do this if you wish. The alternative option is to cancel the days that are over your entitlement or cancel the entire request for time off work.

Staying aware of how much leave you're entitled to or checking before you make any requests reduces the chances of this issue arising. In some jobs, you may accrue annual leave as you work, rather than having a fixed allowance. This is often the case with part-time or casual jobs. If this is the case with your job, you might be able to accumulate the additional annual leave you require by agreeing to work more hours.

Related: The pros and cons of a zero-hour contract

Is it unprofessional to cancel your time off?

The attitude towards cancelling your time off is likely to depend on your employer but, in many cases, it's seen as acceptable. Your employer might actually find it beneficial if you cancel your time off, as it might make it easier for them to cover other staff members' time off.

Some employers may think that it's less professional if you cancel at the last minute when it was possible to do so earlier, or if you regularly cancel or change your requests. Sometimes, situations may arise when cancelling is necessary, but it's a good idea to only make annual leave requests when you're certain about taking that time off.

Read more: Key attributes of professionalism in the workplace

What are the alternatives to cancelling annual leave?

There are several alternatives to cancelling your annual leave and it's a good idea to consider these options before proceeding. For instance, if your original plans are no longer happening, you might want to consider making new plans during the same period of annual leave.

Additionally, you can also consider adjusting the dates of your annual leave to accommodate your other plans. When doing this, it might be necessary to check your colleagues' annual leave arrangements to see if this is feasible. It's often worth thinking about other options, especially if it's near the end of the year and your annual leave entitlement is about to expire.

Related: Forming relationships with work colleagues

Can an employer cancel annual leave?

Your employer can cancel your annual leave, but most only do this if it's really necessary. Generally, your employer would notify you of this in advance, which is normally at least the same amount of notice as the length of your annual leave request. For instance, if you were planning on taking a week off work, your employer would inform you at least a week in advance of this if they wished to cancel.

Normally, it's necessary for your employer to provide a valid reason for cancelling your leave. For instance, they may wish to cancel due to staff members being away from work as a result of sickness or them going on bereavement or compassionate leave.

Related: What is bereavement leave? Definition, how it works and examples

What to do if a team member asks you to cancel your annual leave?

If another team member approaches you directly and asks you to cancel your annual leave, it's advisable to discuss this with your manager. Your manager is usually the decision-maker regarding this topic. Due to this, it's typically more appropriate for team members who have concerns about annual leave to raise this with the team's manager, rather than asking other colleagues directly to change their plans.

Related: How to answer 'How do you deal with conflict?' questions

Can an employer refuse annual leave requests?

Your employer can refuse a request for annual leave if it harms the business's operations. For example, if other team members have already requested to use their annual leave for the same period, your employer might refuse your request because it may result in staffing issues. There might also be peak business dates when it's necessary for all staff members to be working. For example, retail and customer service professionals might be unable to take annual leave during the Christmas period, as this is a busy time of the year for these industries.

Why is it beneficial to take annual leave?

Taking annual leave is beneficial for your well-being as it helps you to achieve an improved work-life balance and gives you time to relax away from work and return with a fresh perspective. It gives you more time to pursue other commitments outside of work, for example, your family or hobbies. Using your annual leave entitlement can also improve your long-term productivity, as you're likely to feel more motivated after returning to work after a break.

Related: Work-life imbalance: what it means and its effect

What happens if you don't use your annual leave?

Most employers allocate annual leave annually and, usually, if you don't use your entitlement, you may lose it rather than having it added to your entitlement for the following year. Due to this, you may use a lot of your entitlement at the end of the period to avoid losing it. This becomes difficult if several team members want to do the same thing. Generally, the best thing to do is to spread your entitlement throughout the year, as this makes it more likely for your employer to accept your requests and for you to be able to use your entire allowance.

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