HR Grapevine
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Holiday policy that works for everybody

Everyone needs a break from work: how can HR ensure they're designing leave policy that works for employees, managers and the business?
Holiday policy that works for everybody
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HOLIDAY POLICY THAT WORKS FOR EVERYBODY


Everyone needs a break from work: how can HR ensure they're designing leave policy that works for employees, managers and the business?

 

“My boss was going away for two weeks, it is a little while for him, so in that sense I was nervous. Not general nerves, really – only if there was some kind of disaster and I would need to sort it out on my own.”

These are the words of Bethanie, a Digital Marketing Manager who spoke to HR Grapevine about how she felt just before her boss set off on a fortnight of annual leave. At her firm Bethanie explained that providing handovers are part of an employee’s written-into-company-policy responsibilities, if they take leave for more than a couple of days. As such, her boss gave her an extensive overview of what should happen in specific scenarios when for when he went away, such as some of the recruitment she would take charge of. Bethanie added that she knew HR was there as a safety net if she needed and her manager would allow her to call him.

However, despite positivies about this practise, even bosses need proper time off. Time that isn’t curtailed by panicked calls from reports because they’ve lost a key account or set fire to an ergonomic desk chair. Yet even this practise, of taking calls from employees whilst lying on the beach, is a smidgin better than another worrying behaviour: not taking holiday at all. In the US, according to a Vacation Confidence Index study by Allianz Global Assistance, over a third of workers hadn’t taken holiday in two years and over half had not taken a holiday in more than a year. Whilst it might not be as severe in the UK, the CIPD recently found that over a quarter of UK employees work through their holidays with over eight in 10 refusing to go off when sick. Whilst this happens for a variety of reasons often it can be often because “the concept of a break seems alien” or because “they keep finding reasons to keep working”, says Shaun Thomson, CEO, Sandler Training.

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'Work separation anxiety' is one term for this, as described in a recent Telegraph article. The phrase alludes to the fact that many employees fail to switch off: believing that if something goes wrong whilst they’re away it will somehow be their responsibility. Yet, according to Alan Price, CEO of Bright HR, taking time off “offers an important opportunity for managers to switch off from work for their own health and wellbeing.” With burnout recently classed as a disease by the World Health Organisation, many firms are looking at their own long-hours, always-on cultures, questioning if they truly are the most productive states of play. Coupled with news that countries that work the longest on average are some of the least productive, it reinforces the importance of ensuring that workers take a break.

So, what does this mean for HR? Well, the function needs to ensure it is setting the right policies, and encouraging the right company culture, to ensure that line-managers, bosses and even the most senior company leaders feel like they can take time off. But what does this look like? And, how can remaining, less-senior staff feel best able to make important decisions when the boss decides it’s time for a break – especially when this might force them to make choices with serious business consequences.

…when decisions are made without the boss’s approval, other employee's take these seriously…
What decisions can be made? What should be held until the Manager returns? Who else can make the decisions?

So senior staff can properly feel the benefits of time off, Steve Pritchard, the most senior HR Consultant at British clothing brand Ben Sherman, explains that a handover needs to be created each time they take time off. “A strategic plan should be put in place before the boss leaves, so that other members of staff have a clear understanding of what that handover looks like and know exactly what they are taking on, and how to manage their time while their boss is away.” Yet, the company shouldn’t suffer just because decision makers are away. Pritchard is all too aware that productivity can take a hit if the usual overseer is off – therefore he suggests clear hierarchy, so a deputy steps up in their absence. “The designated member of staff needs to be one that is respected within the company, so that when decisions are made without the boss’s approval, other employee's take these seriously and work towards these tasks as well as they would if their boss was around.”

Vicki Field, HR Director at London Doctors Clinic Ltd, a chain of private GP practises, agrees – adding that staff shouldn’t be expected to cover all the boss’ usual tasks and should be clearly told what decisions they can be expected to take. “If managers are away, they should brief their teams about the levels of responsibility or autonomy that they are allowed in their absence. What decisions can be made? What should be held until the manager returns? Who else can make the decisions? In larger companies it’s likely that there’s always someone more senior who can be called upon, but in smaller ones, it can be hard to cover. Giving clear guidelines can reduce stress.”

There are not just holidays to consider, though. Working parents, employees who are also carers, those with extra-employment responsibilities often end up caught in a hinterland where they feel, even if they’re using their holiday allowance to care for less relaxing endeavours, they have to appear to be working for the benefit of their colleagues. For these scenarios, she advises on flexibility, so all employees feel guided and cared for. “Childcare is an enormous stress for working parents. [Ensure] there’s flex to monitor them whilst being logged on and fully engaged with work.

“Clearly, you don’t want to engender resentment with those employees without children so a sensitive approach to flexible working is key.” The same is true of holidays: clear guidelines will ensure that those not sipping sangria on the sand will still be productive and won’t feel bitter – well, not too much anyway - whilst those on leave feel the true benefits of time off.


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