Holiday, Leadership, Opinion

You Need Two Holiday Policies

9422050346_5b6a62a27f_oI work in a traditional company with a traditional holiday policy.  It boils down to being given 28 days holiday and being told to use them all by the end of the year.

So in a week or so I’ll have a new stock of 28 holiday days in my bank to use when I see fit.

Sort of.

As per the EU’s Working Time Directive we need to take 20 days (this can be covered by Bank Holidays) by the end of the year and the remaining 8 days either lost or carried over depending on the number and the reason you didn’t take them.

It’s a Dumb Policy

  • If I have to take my daughter to pre-school I’ll have to book a morning off even though I could get to work at 11.
  • If I need to go to the dentist, I’ll probably lose an afternoon
  • I’m moving house next year, who knows what kind of crap will come my way that means I’ll lose days of ‘holiday’ to more stress than I would get at work

In other words, I could spend my entire holiday period dealing with the kind of things life just throws at you, and I know for a fact that the ‘holiday’ is not a time to relax.

And if I go over the 28, well it’s either unpaid leave or borrowing from next year.  Great, so not only am I stressed having to deal with solicitors in a house move, I’m now stressed because either I’m not getting paid or I’m going to be short next year!

In fact, simply forcing me to take holiday within a specific time frame and within a specific number of days doesn’t guarantee that I’m rested, recharged and ready to come back to work full of energy and gusto.

It pretty much means nothing.

The ‘Oft-Mentioned’ Unlimited Holiday Policy

So first, do away with the rule that you can only take so many days off per year.  If your members of staff go over their allocated amount, do you want to start generating problems for them because they need another day here or another day there?

And before you start to think people will take advantage and just book every day of the week off every week, then you have a lot more to worry about that just holidays.  You’re admitting there is no trust, no guidance, no support and no community in the place you work.

I’d stop reading this now and go deal with that first…

Your developers will not suddenly start to disappear when deadlines loom, they won’t suddenly start to book trips when a project is in trouble.  In fact, the added trust you are passing onto your team will probably increase their level of commitment, and increase their desire to work as hard as they can.

A Not So Unlimited Holiday Policy

And it’s at this point where you need another line in your holiday policy.

If people have no limits, if they have passion and drive in their work and a level of commitment due to the trust you’re showing in them, they’ll probably start to take even less holiday.
That’s right – it’s been shown that when an employee is given a no-limit holiday policy, they actually start to take even less holiday.

You need to make sure people take holiday.  You could pay them or have some other extrinsic method to promote holidays though personally I am not a fan, people should be taking holiday for themselves not as an additional incentive.

A minimum holiday allowance, something like the 20 in the WTD, makes sure that people are getting not only the rest they need but the opportunity to take those days throughout the year.

But even with a minimum number, you still run the risk of burned out people in November taking the whole of December off to recover so spread it out. Have a policy that dictates a week every 3 months (on average) or an expected number of days taken as the months increase to December.

You Still Need to Take Stock

Whatever the policy is, one thing that is important is that it’s still tracked.  If holidays are not tracked, it’s hard to calculate the cost and impact because at the end of the day it’s still paid time off which has an impact on project budgets, near-term projections and planning for the future.

If you don’t track, you can’t clearly see the impact it will have on a future roadmap and you won’t be able to retrospectively look back and apply historical data to your up-and-coming plans.

You’ll also need to track so you know people are taking the days you expect them to take!

We Expect Maturity At Work, so Why Not At Play?

We expect development teams to be self organised, motivated and where necessary be flexible in the work they are doing to hit the demands of the project, roadmap or company goals.  This almost always means we expect developers to work extra hours if they see an issue and want to go out of their way to hit the goals they themselves promised to hit.

So why can’t we turn this on it’s head.

If we expect our developers to know when they might need to do a few extra hours, why can’t we expect them to know when they can relax and give them the responsibility to manage their time in the way that best suits them and the team they are on.

If this sounds a bit like ROWE to you I want to assure you this isn’t.  While it might take some elements of ROWE in regards to personal empowerment and responsibility, it doesn’t go as far as ROWE.

But then, I’m not convinced by ROWE, but that’s for another day.

Title image by rob. Used under licence.

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