In late 2015 we identified that a very small number of the most forward thinking employers had introduced ‘unlimited holiday’ policies and the idea resonated incredibly strongly with us. The concept fitted with Inzpire’s desire to think and act differently from our competitors; to be an employer of choice by trusting and empowering our staff; and to focus on ‘value added’ and results rather than time spent in an office. Therefore at the start of 2016 we began a trial to test our belief that contrary to traditional wisdom, our team members could be trusted to take paid leave as often and for as long as they wished, subject to the overriding principles that they would act reasonably taking into account current and forthcoming workloads; that leave would only be taken where they were sufficiently up to date with their work; any absence would not damage the business; and time away would not create an undue burden on colleagues.
The trial also set out to test the feasibility, cost and benefits of permanently introducing a companywide scheme; to confirm that a scheme that gave greater empowerment to individuals wouldn’t bring the effective management of the Company to its knees; and that we could adequately explain to our customers both why such a radical scheme was beneficial to them in terms of happy, dedicated Inzpire staff embedded as part of their whole force teams, and to reassure them that they would continue to receive the same level of excellence they had always enjoyed from us.
During the trial we have sought feedback from participants and their line managers together with inviting everyone within the Company to comment. Overall the response has been incredibly positive and no significant issues have arisen with only a couple of minor revisions being required to the original framework – mainly surrounding the best way to transition to the new scheme and how staff would wish to deal with their existing contractual entitlement which allows them to carry over up to 10 days of holiday each year. Therefore from 1 January 2017 Uncapped Leave will be rolled out across the business.
So what lessons can we pass on to any other equally innovative Companies who want to break the status quo and take employee trust and empowerment to new levels?
Firstly get your cultural foundations right. This scheme isn’t going to be suitable for every organisation right now – we are fortunate that we have a workforce of incredibly motivated, engaged and highly professional individuals who are used to working in environments where trust, open communication and support flows both ways. Our inclusion in the top 40 of the Sunday Times ‘Best Small Companies to work for’ in both of the last 2 years indicated to us that we were heading in the right direction, but our leaders also take considerable time and effort to promote our core values and ethos which in turn underpin our daily operations. If trust, commitment, satisfaction and excellence are not part of the daily language of your organisation, you will wish to concentrate on the basics before introducing uncapped holidays.
Next don’t expect everyone to buy into the idea at the start. Such a scheme requires a fundamental shift away from traditional thinking – for instance some managers were concerned they would lose the ability to say ‘no’ should an inappropriate request be submitted. As important as selling the benefits to colleagues has been ensuring those with managerial responsibility feel they have adequate ability to step in should it be necessary.
Understand how holidays are taken in your organisation. One of our reoccurring issues has been ensuring our highly committed and dedicated staff take sufficient time off each year. Therefore we have tried to remove as many artificial barriers (such as not taking more than 10 days holiday at a time) as possible and we expect to spend as much time, if not more, encouraging staff to take leave and recharge their batteries rather than worrying about too much holiday being taken.
Finally be prepared to take a risk. This is not a ‘no risk’ option – but we absolutely believe the downside of having to deal with a personnel problem at some future point is massively outweighed by the wider rewards to individuals, the business and our clients.
If you are reading this and thinking “that’s the type of organisation we are, we could do that!” you won’t be surprised to learn that when our CEO, Hugh Griffiths talks about our uncapped leave scheme at events such as the RAF Air Power Conference and other global leadership conferences, the concept raises the most phenomenal level of interest and envy, because in a world of staid and risk adverse traditional HR thinking, this scheme represents a very fresh and different approach. We believe that trusting and empowering our own people with the uncapped leave scheme is just one example of how the modern workplace should be – and it is what we are doing here, now and in the years to come.