Imagine you’re running a business. This may well be a reality for you, but don’t worry if it’s not — you can come along for the ride anyway.

So, things are going well in your business and you now have a few staff to look after. Hurrah! Ah, but now there are other things to sort out. Pensions! People off sick! And I suppose someone’s going to want to go on holiday at some point…

This brings us to the killer question we’re here to explore today. Annual leave policies — what should we do about them?

Eeny, meeny, miny... (Photo by _M_V_ on Unsplash.)

Choose your path

It seems there are three approaches to developing an annual leave policy:

  • Do the bare minimum and allow staff to take the time off they are legally entitled to, don't review it, don't consider the wider implications or benefits of time off work.
  • Copy someone else and implement a framework you’re already familiar with from another workplace which seemed to do the job.
  • Give it some proper thought and find an approach that works hand in hand with the goals of your business, and provides your team with flexibility and options that work for them.

Now, be honest — when you created your annual leave policy, how much thought did you put into it?

Like many things in life, it’s usually quicker and easier to set something up if someone’s already done the legwork already. They’ve checked out the legal side of things and figured out the finer details, so it should be fine, right? Well, with an annual leave policy, a one-size-fits-all approach might not work as well as you’d hope.

Where do I start?

It’s important to make sure you’ve got the basics in place such as deciding to have a policy in the first place. By having a policy and making sure it’s visible, everyone knows what the rules are and what is expected of them, and you can manage requests in a fair and consistent way.

We’ve put together an annual leave policy template which you are free to download. It should serve as a good starting point for setting up your own way of doing things, at the very least it'll trigger some interesting thoughts.

Culture plays an important part in developing a successful annual leave policy too — there are real benefits to understanding what makes people happy and productive. Use your understanding of your company culture to design a policy that fuels happiness, or at the very least doesn’t put barriers in the way.

Let’s not forget about communication. If staff understand the rationale behind the fundamental aspects of the policy, you’re onto a winner. If your culture encourages transparency and the freedom to ask questions, even better.

So, how can you shift the focus from a rigid and restrictive system that everyone merely puts up with to something with more freedom and flexibility that everyone loves?

How can I make an annual leave policy that’s more suited to my employees?

There is a considerable gap between the policies of large-scale companies with a decades-old conventional approach and some of the more recently formed businesses we work with such as Buffer and Doist.

For example, when I worked at a busy agency with hundreds of staff I was entitled to a strict 25 days of annual leave, which seems to be the default amount at a lot of places in the UK. However, the policy required it to be spread out evenly through the year. My leave-booking trends were monitored and I’d be encouraged to book leave at a certain time of year, even though I might not have wanted to. Leave also had to be booked far in advance to ensure I could actually get the days I ‘wanted’. Need a day off at short notice? Better hope no-one else has booked that day off, otherwise it’s a nope.

Compare this to Doist — the company behind productivity tools Todoist and Twist — who this year abolished their standard policy of 25 days + national holidays in favour of a super-simple allocation of 40 days for everyone.

With around 60 employees spread across 26 countries, calculating a fair annual leave balance for everyone was proving a real headache when Spain has 14 national holidays and somewhere like the UK comes in with just a handful.

We can draw some inspiration from Doist founder Amir Salihefendić, who says much of the rethink centred around the ‘why’ behind the policy.

“Productivity and taking time off are yin and yang. The ability to disengage, relax, and recharge is as important as being ambitious, organized, and productive.”

This downtime is considered so important that staff are expected to use up every single day of their 40-day allocation. It’s not just a generous amount of leave, it’s a requirement.

So, in Doist’s case, they want staff to be well-rested to lay the foundation for them giving their best when they’re at work. This is where culture comes in — they’ve recognised the positive influence taking time off and having a healthy work-life balance can have on productivity.

The work-life balance isn't quite working for this chap. (Photo by Lechon Kirb on Unsplash.)

Amir adds:

“Some of the companies building the most innovative technologies in the world are still using principles of work that are hundreds of years old. I hope policies like ours can inspire others to think about what it truly means to create a productive place to work.”

Where do we go from here?

You’ve got all the tools you need to put together a successful annual leave policy. You can start with our template and you’ll need to set aside plenty of time to think about the culture you want to foster and what you need to put in place to achieve that. Once you’ve got the ideas sorted it’s then down to implementation — customising the policy, reviewing it then sharing it with everyone affected by it and making sure they know what the score is.

With all that done you can sit back and take a breather before your inbox is set alight with holiday requests. Don’t sweat, though — Timetastic’s here to help.

Header photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash.