Three years ago, I announced to my team at Inventium that we would be offering unlimited paid leave. Needless to say, the reaction was a positive one. I made the decision to offer unlimited leave to bring more balance to team members’ lives.
In management consulting, the industry in which Inventium falls (we are an innovation consultancy), it is not uncommon for staff to work long hours and travel interstate or overseas somewhat frequently. In Australia, while leave is capped at four weeks, working hours remain uncapped in our industry.
Unlimited leave was launched to rectify this imbalance. I decided to call it Rebalance Leave. Our policy wasn’t about taking more leave for leaves’ sake. It was about helping staff lead more balanced lives. Three years on, it is clear that Rebalance Leave has made a huge difference.
My team now take an average of five and a half weeks of leave per year. Engagement scores are in the tenth percentile for our industry. Sick leave is a miniscule 2.5 days per person annually, which is well below the Australian average of eight or nine days per year. And average tenure has almost doubled since this policy launched three years ago.
There are several reasons why an unlimited leave policy can be hugely impactful on morale, tenure, and productivity.
When people work more than 40-hour weeks, things can easily get out of balance.
In many companies, people work more than the standard 40-hour week. Fifty-plus hour weeks are common in many industries that don’t pay overtime, such as professional services, technology and real estate. For many, dipping into work on weekends is normal, thanks to technology allowing us to always be “on”.
However, when long hours without the benefit of longer holidays becomes the norm, things can get out of whack. We walk around like sleep deprived zombies, our productivity declines, and people’s frustration and exhaustion is often directed back at their company.
Unlimited leave allows for people to self-regulate. We all have different thresholds for how much we can work and how much recovery we need to rebound. By not assuming we all have the same requirement – four weeks – to stay fresh, an uncapped leave policy allows people to design their work and non-work lives around their personal needs.
Unlimited leave and self-management
Traditional command and control management essentially treats people like children. This management philosophy assumes that people must be told what to do, and when and how to do it. It assumes that employees cannot be trusted to think for themselves.
Based on a lot of people’s surprised reaction to Inventium’s unlimited leave policy, this view is still sadly the case for many leadership teams.
However, if you take the opposite approach to management and treat people like adults, something interesting happens: they behave like adults.
Inventium deliberately has no rules around Rebalance Leave. Staff are simply told to take what they need to ensure they feel rebalanced and fresh at work. Since launching the policy three years ago, not a single person has abused it. And when staff have taken extended periods of leave for reasons other than rebalancing, they simply opt to take the leave as unpaid.
Rebalance Leave gets the best from people
When people are able to balance or juggle competing work and non-work demands, you get the best out of people. They bring energy to the workplace, but also have energy left for their life outside of work.
When people are able to take the time off that they need, not surprisingly, they come to work happier. Because it’s hard to be happy when you feel exhausted or burned out due to too much work and too little recovery time.
And when staff feel happy and healthy, and love the work that they do, they want to stay. One of the most significant changes we have seen at Inventium is that staff tenure has almost doubled. So not only is unlimited leave great for staff, but it’s also great for business.