Why My Agency Now Insists All Staff Take at Least 5 Weeks Holiday per Year
Before I ran my own business, the business of ‘holidays’ always used to annoy me.
Hovering between the 20 and the 25-day mark, depending on how long you’d been with the company, having to use that time during certain periods (Christmas being the main one), the whole system struck me as upside down.
The onus on me, as the employee, was always to not take too much, rather than on my employer to ensure that I was in tip-top condition to do the job they needed me to do.
Limits were set, rules were put in place, and you were expected to meet them universally, even thought it was generally accepted that different people have different needs when it comes to R&R.
Over the past decade, the lines between work and home have blurred beyond recognition. With the phones in our pockets now acting as mobile offices, we are in-reach for bosses, clients, issues, opportunities and general work-noise at every point in the day, wherever we are.
Since the pandemic, this has been amplified for many of us, with the tentacles of work weaving their way through our home and family lives as we all juggle domesticity with productivity. We’ve had many meetings in the agency where we’ve stressed that people have to take time off, even if the traditional forms of holiday are on-hold for the time being.
After recently reading this FT article – Make time to rest or the world will steal it from you –and having my attention drawn to the Japanese concept of Karoshi (death from overwork), I realised that we have to take a more positive stance on how we look after our staff, and to enshrine in our business the importance of people taking a break.
Our agency has always understood that the business comes second to people’s personal lives. From day one, we refused to set up a taxi account, nor have a ‘working late = free food’ policy, as we had seen in previous agency lives how that leads to a culture of late night presenteeism in the knowledge that there’s a warm meal and a fast route home at the end of the night.
For us, the trick has always been to create an environment of trust, flexibility and responsibility for all of our staff. We trust them all implicitly to do the right thing by the business and their colleagues, to act in the best interests of the group. Fear of them acting in a negative way, or taking advantage of us, doesn’t drive our decision-making.
Reed Hoffman, CEO of Netflix, described recently the idea of Freedom & Responsibility that runs through Netflix’s employee policies, for example – their five-word expenses policy that reads “Act in Netflix’s best interest”. This is a model that more businesses need to adopt.
Which brings me back to holidays.
Our agency has introduced a minimum holiday policy, which seeks to ensure that all staff take a minimum amount of time away from the business, every year. We’ve set this at five weeks, with no upper limit.
The only thing we ask is that they never take less than the full five weeks, and that they respect the group when booking time off.
And in instances where they don’t meet the minimum criteria, fines will be set in the form of taking the whole agency out for lunch or dinner.
Am I worried about people taking advantage?
Am I worried about the agency becoming a ghost town?
Am I worried that this is going to cost us loads of money?
Because I trust our people to make this work.
And I’d rather have a business stuffed full of motivated, rested, energised people than an agency full of people worried about whether they can ask their boss for an extra day’s holiday because they’re knackered, or because their childcare has fallen through.
And most of all, because I remember what it was like when the policy was the other way around. And it was rubbish.