Rethink your leave policies for a happier workforce 1

Rethink your leave policies for a happier workforce


Today’s ‘always on’ culture is blurring the lines between work and play. It’s leading many of us to feel that being available, even when on holiday, is the new norm. This is not a healthy habit for people and businesses to fall into. Everyone needs time off to relax and unwind without the phone going off – it is crucial for the well-being and happiness of us all.

Scandinavian countries have led the way in offering longer annual leave and reduced working hours. Take Sweden for example, which has introduced a six-hour working day. The experiment has seen less sick leave, reported better perceived health and boosted productivity – which can only be a good thing. On the other hand, countries like America, ‘the land of the free’, offers an annual leave base of 10 days per year, which seems nonsensical, and is not doing the country and its people any good.

We are starting to see a trend for companies to rethink their leave policies in the interests of their employees to account for the pressures of the modern working world. Unlimited leave policies are an intriguing idea although they aren’t a common practice worldwide.

At Rise, we introduced an unlimited leave policy in early 2018. I wanted to implement something that not only improved well-being but also impacted people’s lives in a positive way. The four-week annual leave allowance in Australia (which most companies offer), is like a prison sentence that restricts people from living life. I’m a firm believer in people being at their best, and they are when they have had a good break and are refreshed.

The great thing about our unlimited leave policy is that it’s paid. This is rare in the business world and is a huge incentive for employees.

Kronos in America implemented a similar policy, and whilst they don’t offer ‘paid leave,’ they give their employees the flexibility of having unlimited unpaid leave. To date, they’ve found the policy successful, with more engaged and happier staff. In fact, their CEO Aron J Ain has seen the following:

  • People in their thirties and forties benefited the most, particularly those with families

  • High performing employees took the most leave as they felt entitled to it

  • The most leave taken was approximately six weeks i.e. no-one abused the policy

  • The year of implementation (2016) was their best year yet. Engagement increased, and voluntary turnover decreased. 

In some industries, an unlimited leave policy won’t work on a wide-scale basis. For instance, construction firms need a certain amount of people ‘always on’ to complete projects. What’s more, for a system like this to be successful, you need a deep level of trust across the entire business. One thought for companies who want to incentivise employees but can’t implement a company-wide unlimited leave policy, is to offer it to a small number of people e.g. C-suite and Senior Execs, as part of their package. Another option is to provide greater flexible work arrangements, such as working from home or leaving the office early when needed.

If your organisation can implement an unlimited leave policy or more flexible work arrangements, not only does it differentiate your business from others, it helps retain ‘happier’ employees, increase productivity, and enhance employer branding. A win/win case on all fronts.

Source: HBR Nov-Dec 2017 issue

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