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Even though unlimited leave is not a new concept internationally, the news that a local specialist banking group has embraced it has raised a few eyebrows. Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HR Business Unit at CRS Technologies, says this approach necessitates a radical change in thinking from corporate policy-makers.

‘Bottomless’ holidays first appeared in the mid-90s and have steadily spread across US and British firms. Yet South African businesses are still hesitant to adopt this trend, owing to concerns around abuse of such a policy.

“While these concerns are legitimate, organisations that implement an unlimited leave policy can just as easily take it away if it is abused as it is not a minimum requirement dictated by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). On the flip side, it gives employees the freedom to plan their own lives and shows them how much the company trusts and cares about them,” says Myburgh.

However, he cautions that an unlimited leave policy only makes sense if it makes staff more productive. It is not about maintaining a business-as-usual approach and hoping for the best.

“An unlimited leave policy goes against the traditional thinking of an organisation and requires a complete mindset change from management and staff. The best way to manage such a policy is to start with strict measurement criteria and couple it to specific targets, levels of achievement, and outcomes.”

“To avoid abuse, employees should be informed that such a leave policy is not regulated by the BCEA, but instead by company policy. The business can therefore impose its own terms and conditions on anything that is provided above and beyond the BCEA. Employees should be made aware that this leave is subject to strict achievable outcomes or the policy could be reversed.”

Myburgh believes that an unlimited leave policy does not necessarily translate to all industry sectors and is arguably more suited to the corporate environment. “Statistics show that staff in manufacturing companies tend to use all their leave in a leave cycle, albeit annual, family responsibility or sick leave. The inference could be made that they are abusing their leave and thus an unlimited leave policy would not be recommended.”

Expectations are high that more companies in South Africa will gradually start embracing this trend. With unlimited leave already very popular in the US and Europe, there should be a shift in the same direction from local businesses.

“Africa tends to implement Western market trends at its own pace. However, so it might be a while before more companies embrace this as a competitive advantage for employee perks. That being said, it is good to lay the groundwork now and perhaps start experimenting by using it as incentive for completing certain complex projects,” Myburgh concludes.