What does ‘paid leave’ mean to you? What’s your reaction to hearing someone is taking some ‘time off’? In a culture where hard work is counted as hours put in, and days off are seen as dead or wasted time, you might be forgiven for thinking that time off is a bad thing, a necessary but ultimately counter-productive feature of employment.
But times are changing. The modern focus on the sacred ‘work–life balance’, and a shift in our understanding of what productivity means and how it works, have led to a reframing of time off and what it can do not only for the employee but for business. In this article, I briefly explain just some of the many ways in which taking — and allowing — time off is good for business.
It’s a lure
There’s a reason some of the biggest, most successful companies in the world also have some of the most generous annual leave policies — they know it makes them an attractive employer, and they want to recruit, and retain, the best staff. Research has shown that paid time off is the number one employee benefit, sitting at the top of the ‘most wanted’ list. A generous leave policy says a lot about the company culture a potential recruit will be joining. If you’re offering more than your competitors, chances are you’ll have potential recruits queuing at the door. The tech industry seems to be leading the way in this, with the likes of Netflix, Google, and Airbnb offering ground-breaking unlimited time off and world-leading paternity and maternity leave packages, but there’s nothing stopping this being implemented across the business spectrum.
There are two main business benefits to this. First, if you’ve got the best people working for your company (and you look after their wellbeing — more on that later) they’ll be doing the best work in the industry. Second, higher employee satisfaction and retention means lower staff turnover, one of the most costly aspects of running a business, both in terms of time and money. A relaxed attitude to time off will help you recruit and retain the best talent in your industry.
Wellbeing and engagement
This is a buzzword that’s been doing the rounds for a couple of years now — and for good reason. In an era where people are living longer and physically healthier lives, the focus has shifted to mental health and wellbeing as a priority. Whilst wellbeing is inherently valuable, it also has business benefits in the form of increased engagement and productivity. Happy and healthy people are more engaged, more productive and will bring that positivity to the workplace and to your business. People who are ill, stressed, tired, unhappy, worrying about things at home do not work well. The rise in popular productivity tools such as the Pomodoro method is increasing our understanding of motivation, procrastination, and productivity, recognising the fact that we can only maintain maximum productivity for so long.
Thankfully, we are rapidly leaving behind the tired trope of successful people being those who get up at the crack of dawn to put in a 16-hour day in the office, and in seeing value and effort purely in terms of hours put in. There is increasing recognition that this is damaging (to both the business and the employee) and unhealthy, and that it is possible to be a successful business person, employee, contributor while also living a full and healthy life outside of the office. Engaged people work harder and are more productive; unengaged people procrastinate, get distracted, distract others, and don’t optimise their time. Who do you want working in your office?
Value and values
In essence, employment is an exchange of value — the value your employee creates for you is in the workplace, a business value. For some career-minded individuals, or those fortunate enough to do work that they love and are personally passionate about, they might derive reciprocal value from the work they’re doing. But often, perhaps even mostly, the value their employer creates for them is elsewhere — it’s in the life that they are able to live outside of work, the holidays they can take, the home they live in, the life they can provide for their family. To forget this, or to have an annual leave policy that limits the value your employees can gain from their employment, is to limit how valued they feel. If they feel they are being short-changed in the employment value exchange, they may be more likely to look for ways to redress the balance.
Time off also helps staff to value other team members, other departments or parts of the business. When someone takes time off, their role is typically covered by another — this can only be a good thing, as it keeps people in touch with all areas of the business, helps them to understand how staff work as a cohesive whole and see things from different perspectives. This benefits everyone. It helps people feel more relaxed about taking time away, as they know they will be covered, meaning they maximum enjoyment and benefit from their downtime. It also helps to identify skills gaps, individual strengths and weakness, opportunities for promotions or transfers, and generally keeps things fresh and interesting.
Aside from balancing the books in terms of value given and received, and increasing recognition of value and contribution amongst staff across the business, allowing people the time off they need to live a fulfilling life is treating them with respect and recognising their natural inclination to engage and be productive. What are your business values? How do you want your company to be perceived? A business with strong values, that doesn’t just state their values but actually lives them, demonstrates them every day in how they treat their own people (not just their customers or clients), this type of business commands respect. This is a business people want to deal with, want to work for, want to emulate.
Mutual benefit is business benefit
While I have explored the advantages of a generous time off policy from the perspective of the business, there really is no distinction between employee and employer benefits; it’s a virtuous circle of mutual advantage. You value your employee, recognise their needs, give them the resources to be their best selves — in return, they bring their best selves to work. They value the resources you provide, they recognise and appreciate the support they are given, they feel able to flourish in life and at work.
Commitment and success are not measured in hours worked, weekends sacrificed, family events missed. You want staff to feel accomplished and proud, not used. Fewer hours worked doesn’t mean fewer hours of productivity — in fact, quite the opposite — and it’s those hours that benefit your business. This doesn’t cost as much as you might think, often nothing at all — it may even mean a net increase in productive hours. You gain nothing from eight hours a week frittered away browsing Facebook, chatting, procrastinating, with staff being physically in the office but not mentally there. Companies moving to a four-day week have actually seen a boost in productivity.
Ultimately, you’ve got to ask yourself: what makes a good employee? If what it really comes down to is productivity and engagement, both of which are known to be vastly increased when a person is given time and space to relax and recharge — mentally, physically, and emotionally — then the case for a generous and relaxed policy around time off couldn’t be stronger.
If you want to help your employees to arrange stress-free time off so that both they and you can see the benefits of a rested and relaxed workforce, you might want to think about implementing a system that makes the process of booking leave quick and easy. If so, consider Leave Dates. The ability to see everyone’s availability all in one place, in a visual and clear way, makes planning projects, holiday, meetings, and events much less stressful. Leave Dates removes the effort of manually managing leave and absence, giving you more time to get on with more important things, like running a business! The app is free for small teams and works on laptops, tablets and mobile phones.