Pros and Cons of Unlimited Leave – should more SA companies follow Investec’s lead?

2019-07-03 11:01 - Selene Brophy
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Twenty days paid leave.  That’s the average paid time off offered by most South African companies. Whether you’re a solo traveller or have to align your leave to the rhythm of the school holiday calendar, it often does not feel like enough.

Working hard, doesn’t always mean you want to play hard.

Sometimes, when you’ve pulled a week of all-nighters to put a campaign brief to bed or deliver that triple-checked budget spreadsheet all you want to do is possibly Netflix (Who also happens to offer unlimited leave)… and you know the rest.

But the idea of being offered unlimited leave, sure leaves the process wide open for abuse. Well considering I’m writing this while juggling school holidays, having come off the back of a week’s leave – half of which was spent working in some form or another, on which side of the fence does the 4th industrial revolution allow the abuse to take place? And I know I'm not unique in this inability to switch off.

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Truth be told, the youth of today are preparing for a vastly different working landscape, which is probably why Investec has joined the league of companies changing the status quo.

They don’t want to restrict or constrain people through time and dress, according to Lesley-Anne Gatter, head of Investec SA's human resources. Business Insider reports the company aims to reward people according to output as opposed to having punitive discussions about why somebody didn’t come into the office today.

And with that said, staff will have to opt for the unlimited leave and managing their time accordingly.

But unlimited paid time off is not a new concept, as a large number of reputable international companies have long adopted the practice.

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So what are the pros that make unlimited leave a practical solution:

It promotes a culture of wellness and self-care

Nothing boosts company morale more than knowing you can take a long-weekend off whenever you need it – given that your performance areas are all sorted. Inc reports that a 2017 State of the American Workplace Report shows that 53 percent of employees value “greater work-life balance and personal well-being”.  

Unlimited vacation time certainly prioritises this. But over and above that it ups the sense of trust in the company between the employer and employees. 

Companies get to attract top talent

This is likely the main reason Investec decided to implement the new leave policy and the financial and banking industry is undoubtedly cut-throat. Research shows that while increases are vital, additional benefits like unlimited leave as an option, make certain companies vastly more appealing to work for.

In a world where many jobs are more switched on than off – working while having time off is a reality that might find a bit more balance with a policy like this or even as a ‘new recruiting’ tool.

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The cons are of course also very hairy:

Some may abuse the policy

This type of policy will require a huge amount of trust in the company between the employer and employees. And while on the one hand it seems open-ended, the specifics will need to be in place to weed-out any lazybones.

This policy won’t work for every company. Inc however details how "Kronos employees took 2.6 more days off on average than the prior year.  From a financial standpoint, it was detailed as their best year to date. 

Vacation time is no longer a reward and getting paid out for un-used leave is no longer possible

This policy creates an even playing field, which could cause friction for long-standing employees who feel they deserve better benefits than people who have just recently joined the company.

Added to this, some people have turned their leave into a bonus by not using it and then being paid out for the accrued leave - if company policy allows it. Essentially, this option would fall away – but so does the risk of people not taking leave and burning out.

So, how would you spend your leave if you had say just one more day, never mind unlimited paid time off? I can think of a few... 

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