As an employer, there are a few things you must always consider when managing employee time off and calculating holiday entitlement. According to UK holiday entitlement law, full-time employees in the UK are entitled to a minimum of 28 days of holiday each year (known as statutory leave entitlement or annual leave). Employers can choose to include UK bank holidays in this total.
After these legal requirements are met, where you go from there is up to you. You might decide, for example, to implement an unlimited holiday policy. If a company offers its employees unlimited holidays, it means they are trusting them to manage their own holidays and take as much time off as they feel they need. Provided employees meet all deadlines, they can choose when to take a day off and when to work. In other words, they are evaluated on their output, not their physical presence. No tracking, no allocated days, just take a holiday when you want to.
By offering the incentive, the hope is that employees take ownership of their work and enjoy a better work-life balance.
To some, it may sound like a joke… but it isn’t. Could this policy really be introduced into corporate comms organisations? Would it work?
What’s happening now on the holiday front
We decided to take a closer look and carry out a ‘snapshot survey’ of the holiday allowances in corporate comms agencies with offices in London. 25 days annual leave plus bank holidays seems to be the norm, with many employers offering an additional birthday day off if it falls on a working day. Many offices close between Christmas and New Year, which pushes the number of days off to around 28-29 per year.
We noted some larger consultancies who have reviewed their allowance this year, and now offer 30 days holiday plus bank holidays. Then there are a few consultancies offering unlimited holidays. This certainly makes them stand out from the crowd, but how does this policy work in practice?
Why unlimited holidays could be a game-changer
Companies flying the flag for unlimited holidays include Netflix (since its launch), Virgin (since Richard Branson famously claimed, “Just as we don’t have a nine to five policy, we don’t need a vacation policy”), dating app Bumble (since last year, after they closed for a week to combat staff stress), LinkedIn (though it goes by the name ‘Discretionary Time Off’/DTO) and Buffer, who adopted a minimum holiday policy in 2017.
Offering unlimited holidays could be the difference between a top candidate choosing you over a competitor – especially if the salaries on offer are similar. It could also be the USP on your job advert, meaning more candidates view your role over others, putting yours firmly in the driving seat.
An unlimited holiday policy can empower your workforce and increase employee satisfaction. The flexibility enables employees to create a healthier work-life balance. Unlimited holidays can help employees create a sense of ownership and responsibility about the work they do, thus increasing productivity.
Employers can focus on measuring output instead of hours physically spent at the office. It’s a benefit that can boost employee morale and improve workplace culture. In turn, companies learn to trust their employees to act like stakeholders and be responsible for managing their own time and workloads.
Case study - Vested
Financial services communications agency Vested has adopted an unlimited annual leave policy for its global employees. Chief People Officer Loreal Torres explains the many benefits experienced by both the business and its people:
“Our unlimited holiday offering exists for two reasons; our employees work really hard, and everyone has different needs for their time off. To prescribe a set number of days’ leave is challenging because you’re constantly making exceptions. If you trust your people to do a great job then you should also trust them to know how much time off they need to provide themselves with that balance. We have implemented a minimum threshold of 20 days a year. We proactively and regularly monitor this and if someone looks like they're going to be below that threshold we will let them know that they need to look at taking more time off. What ends up happening is that on average our employees take somewhere between 25 to 30 days of leave per year.”
On how the policy has been received by employees, Torres acknowledges that people are always nervous and hesitant at first because they doubt that it will work. But a “ginormous, global spreadsheet – which is reviewed monthly and quarterly” triggers an alert if someone is below the threshold and managers encourage their colleagues to take some time out of the office. Tracking helps with resourcing, too, as Vested teams collaborate globally on client accounts, so holiday can be planned around key project deliverable dates. “The policy has changed the way we all think about annual leave”, reports Torres. “We don’t have to save up our allowance for family holidays - we can take a day or two off to rest up before a big client campaign or plan a mental health day to decompress after a period of intensive work.”
On benefits for the business, Torres is clear that the approach is proving to be successful. “As people have the flexibility to take so much time off, and when they need it, this helps them get through the more challenging times at work. We have noticed that people are not becoming run down and taking time off sick because of the freedom to take as much rest as they need. People have responded well to having more control and being trusted.”
Why unlimited holiday might not work
While unlimited holidays offer a certain appeal and are working well in many businesses such as Vested, comms professionals are undeniably very busy. Will employees be able to make the most of the policy in an industry where we know many end up rolling over unused annual leave into the next year as they haven’t had the chance to take the full allowance?
Not having a set holiday allowance can lead to increased work anxiety. This is because employees are not aware of the acceptable holiday limit and they are afraid of being judged unfavourably.
Delivery levels and high performers may not feel like they can take time off work, and an unlimited holiday policy might lead to unfairness, with some employees being fine with taking 30 days off, while others might worry about being away for too long and burdening their colleagues.
Without a numerical allowance, there's no visual cue for employees to refer to, no number hanging over your head. Instead there’s endless possibility and choice – so much that you may not ever choose. You have all the time off in the world, and all the time to take it in... and you don't. Numerical limits on holiday allowance don't just define how many days you have to take that year – they also help define what is acceptable behaviour. They act as a company's handrail, letting everyone know just where the edge is so they can feel confident about where they stand. Unlimited holiday policies take that handrail away.
If unlimited holidays aren’t on your agenda
Unlimited holidays aren’t necessarily the answer for all companies but there are lots of things every business can do for the wellbeing of its employees – wellness days, charity days, later starts/earlier Friday finishes, paid sabbaticals and of course flexible working practices with no set hours.
Ultimately, it depends on what you want to achieve and what your employees want although it’s worth remembering, in our Salary Guide 2022, we found that holidays came near the top of list of important company benefits.
Naturally, before you implement any new policy, always gain feedback from employees and perhaps have a trial run to minimise the chance of failure.
The Works Search: a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.