All of the people leaders out there would no doubt agree that employee annual leave is a tricky one. Taking time out to rest and recuperate matters, but with workloads increasing, how many of your team are reluctant to take time off, or worse still, continue to work even when they are technically out? Could adding mandatory holidays to the company calendar be the answer?

While we are by no means the worst off globally, New Zealand does fall behind other countries when it comes to the allocated number of days annual leave and statutory holidays that us workers enjoy. Winter can at times feel like an endurance race with a long wait between public holidays, compared with Summer when the exhaustion of the year hits us and it feels like the whole of the country is on shutdown for the month of January. There is a feeling of solidarity when it comes to stat days, particularly if it is a national public holiday, which means for the lucky majority, we take a break from the office and our devices seem eerily quiet.

Are we missing the point of Annual Leave?

Most employers would agree that encouraging workers to take their full holiday entitlement is the first challenge. Recent stats from HR software provider ELMO found that one in five Kiwi employees had accrued more than the yearly entitlement of annual leave. There are a whole bunch of strategies employers can adopt to shift the focus away from a ‘hustle’ workplace culture but there is no denying the real barriers that prevent individuals from committing to time away from the office – workload demands, concerns around job security, the importance we place on our job and how we define our identity, or overall office/management attitudes towards taking leave, for example.

The psychology behind taking a break – regardless of whether it is a 10-minute coffee break, a long weekend or a full weeks leave – is the idea that when removed from a task or environment that can cause us to feel stress or anxiety, we experience a boost to our mood which improves overall mental and physical health. The reality is that with multiple devices on-hand we are always connected, “always-on” culture means there is the constant temptation to just respond to that one message or finish-off that report. And for those who experience Guilty Vacation Syndrome – the nagging urge to cancel or delay a vacation due to guilt – there is a mountain of anxiety that builds when we are not “working”.

Is it time for some fresh thinking?

Savvy employers are putting a lot of energy into workplace strategies and non-traditional employee benefits to not only promote worker health and wellbeing but also retain top talent, particularly relevant in the current candidate-scarce job market. Rest, relaxation and recharging are some of the key drivers to ensuring your people are happy at work and work productively, which is good for your bottom line. For some companies, this could mean introducing unlimited PTO or trialling a four-day working week. Another emerging trend is implementing company-wide holidays.

In its most simplistic form, a company-wide holiday or vacation means shutting up shop, so your entire business (or a team) has shared downtime and is relieved from the pressure to work while out of the office, but also on their return minimising the amount of missed internal communication to catch up on. Ideally this happens on a Friday or Monday which means people benefit from a long weekend, but it could be an even longer break. One of the early adopters of the company-wide holiday was LinkedIn who gave all of its 15,000+ employees a week off.

Whether it achieves its intended purpose is still up for debate. For example, we know from the experiences of others that for the most part, employees with unlimited PTO take fewer days off than those with a set number of days. Ensuring your people switch off is a big challenge, which could require a bit of training for your people leaders on how to encourage their teams to fully disconnect when they’re taking time off. At a holistic level, establishing better practices around time off and instilling a mentality of “when I’m working, I’m working” and “when I’m taking time off, I’m taking time off” does make a lot of sense.

If unplugging from work is the key to benefiting the most from your leave, then could synchronous holidays be the future of paid time off?

Need help?

As leading HR and people specialists, Decipher Group have a deep understanding of the latest trends in employee retention, reward and recognition programmes, helping our clients to create the right incentives and demonstrations of appreciation that make their people feel valued and engaged in their workplace culture. Let’s talk.

The Decipher Team

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