Every organization wants to attract and retain top talent. So how can you become a more attractive employer while creating a better work/life balance for your employees?
At UPD, a consulting company, an unlimited holiday policy was implemented where employees can take as much vacation as they want and need!
As professionals, you often work more hours than what’s stated in your contract. You have a rewarding yet challenging job, where you are extremely familiar with working over-time, but consistently have an outstanding performance. But what if there is a late meeting or additional client reports requiring completion by end-of-day, or you spend hours a day sitting rush hour traffic, how do you feel? Most importantly, what if you need some time to refresh, or there is a job around the house that you’ve been putting off, or you simply need some quality time with your children? What do you do? Maybe taking an official vacation day brings on a feeling of guilt, or feels a bit undeserving if you only have a limited number of them.
At UPD these common concerns for employee’s well-being are being directly tackled. In 2018 they introduced an “unlimited holiday policy” where employees can take as much vacation as they want. Or, as the CFO said, “…they can take as much vacation as they need.”
The introduction: About UPD
UPD is a young, ambitious Dutch consultancy organization with 70 professionals. They realize there are continuous improvements to be made, not only with their clients but internally as well. They aim to improve their employees’ performance, development, and overall well-being.
The starting point is to give employees more time and space for development, on both businesses and personal levels. In turn, this will further increase the equality between the employer and employee. It is important that this type of policy compliments their philosophy, as it will be part of further creating a trusting culture.
What does UPD want to achieve with this policy?
UPD wants their employees to identify their ideal work/life balance and to take time off when they feel they need it. Also, UPD aims to be more attractive as an employer where job maturity, freedom, responsibility, and equality are central to their company culture. This policy allows for additional space and attention for the individual needs of the employees while stimulating an entrepreneurial atmosphere.
As of 2018, within a certain framework, employees can independently determine the number of holidays they want to use throughout the year.
What does the policy look like?
Until 2017, UPD had a fairly traditional formulated holiday policy, with a maximum allowance of 25 days holiday per year. There is no longer a maximum amount of holiday time in 2018, but a minimum of 20 days. Management coaches recommend on taking at least 20 days holiday, the required amount by Dutch Labour law. However, the employee is free to take more days off if needed. By implementing a minimum number of days off, the company understands the importance of taking enough time off and having work/life balance.
“Getting rid of the max [holidays] gives our professionals literally ‘mental’ space.” – UPD
What if someone wants to go backpacking for 3 months?
Does this mean that as an employee of UPD you could go backpacking around, let’s say, Australia for three months while getting paid? Unfortunately no, it doesn’t work like that. In the end, your salary is a compensation for a certain added value: the tasks you need to accomplish and the results you need to achieve.
Although within UPD, salary is not directly linked to the number of hours worked, but to your overall performance and the added value you bring to the organization.
It is intended that under this policy, employees have the option to take as many holidays as they want as long as they achieve their objectives and meet their deadlines.
The anticipated outcome is that the employees will take, on average, the same number of days off per year, and a rise in productivity will occur due to employees feeling appreciated.
Sometimes I get skeptical reactions from people about “unlimited holiday” policies. Reactions are either based on an anecdotic story of a company where people were afraid to take vacations after implementation, on “gut feelings,’ or based on previous experiences within their own organization.
In a healthy organization with high levels of freedom and responsibility, there are no foreseeable problems. However, it should culturally make sense to implement this type of policy, like it does with UPD, and also with this young startup.
Is your organization ready for this policy change? Keep in mind, even in organizations where there are high levels of responsibility in place, implementation sometimes still requires a paradigm shift within management, HR and its’ employees. This requires strong communication and coaching before, during and after the implementation process.
- Make sure your organization is ready, and if it’s not, then increasing the levels of responsibility should be high on your priority list.
- Ensure to communicate the policy and the intention behind it very well in the onboarding process.
- Create an environment where management encourages taking enough time off.
The process of implementation went very well within UPD. The two most crucial steps were aligning management with the scope of the policy and assisting a paradigm shift.
Aligning the leadership team
We aligned the scope of the policy in a session with the leadership team. In this session we identified the goals and scope, and discussed a number of possible scenarios, doubts and questions. The end results provided a clear scope, an aligned leadership team, and the base for a cross-department implementation and communication strategy.
During the implementation process, we realized that it’s easy to fall back to “20th century organization thinking.” There were questions and comments like: “…but now our employees can’t take their ‘old’ days to the New Year” and “…how do we calculate targets if we don’t have a fixed number of holidays?” The main challenges were the transition to such policies and the people processes. Although, it was an easier transition for the operations department as it was found to be a lot more practical!
“…we had to let go of the old system thinking because that could give employees the idea of taking their rights when all we want was to give flexibility in return.” – Chantal; HR Business Advisor
We assisted the company with changing perspective by providing coaching sessions on creating and implementing this kind of policy. It is crucial that the key players really “feel” and understand the policy in order to make the transition to a more equal employer-employee relationship.
What’s required from the team? Adopting and promoting the change from scarcity to abundance thinking.
During the implementation, process concerns were voiced on whether or not the new policy would be perceived as a “decrease” by employees. In order to shift the mindset, we started framing it as a minimum number of holiday’s, instead of a maximum. This created the needed space to transition the paradigm from scarcity to abundance thinking.
“Besides helping us getting the story and communication right, Angelique was also a great help when it came to preparing the communication plan and helping re-write our terms of employment.” – Chantal; HR Business Advisor
The implementation process was seamlessly successful and the policy was well received by UPD employees. It was important that the policy was carefully implemented while providing additional attention to aligning management with the policy scope.
Post implementation, the employees stated they feel freer just knowing that they have the opportunity to take the time off they need.