Why you really should give more than the minimum holiday allowance

Why is your company only giving the statutory leave allowance?

You don’t pay minimum wage, so why would you give minimum holidays?  

Statutory holiday allowance is the legal minimum amount of leave an employee is granted for time off. In the UK, it works out as 28 days per year (5.6 weeks) of paid time off. Just about a month out of 12.

Compared to some countries, it’s generous. Compared to others, it’s tiny. (Cambodia tops the charts, with 15 days leave plus 27 paid public holidays per year!)

So if the government isn’t going to mandate any additional leave days, it’s up to businesses to make it happen themselves. And we think that's a very important thing to do.

You might think employees taking extra leave means fewer days worked and lower productivity. That’s not going to happen - here’s our case for increasing leave amounts above and beyond the bare minimum.

Annual leave for real lives

Before you employ someone, you negotiate their salary. Sometimes it’s a range set by the company, but often the employee has input - they have skills, qualifications, experience and personal circumstances that all feed into how much they ask for. Ultimately, they get a salary that is personalised to them.

But too often with holiday allowance, it’s not always the same.

Most of the time it’ll be a blanket number - the statutory minimum, sometimes a bit more, usually dictated by company policy, eg. “you get xx days per year off when you work here, increasing by 1 day each year”.

Is that really the best way to do things? Why don’t we talk to people instead, and ask what they need?

Their personal circumstances might mean they’d relish a bigger holiday allowance. The opposite might be true, and they could prefer the statutory minimum. Maybe personalising someone's holiday allowance, or at least providing greater flexibility, would be better for everyone. But having the option to take more time off would be a huge improvement for many people's working lives.

For example, you could offer a new employee a sensible annual salary, with an additional 7 days leave over the statutory minimum, plus 1 duvet day, 2 unsick days, and life leave up to 2 weeks.

You could also have flexible leave allowance during the year. For example, if an employee is approaching burnout, an additional week off work might be just what they need to return to normal. They might not be able to get signed off for stress because the symptoms aren't severe enough, but could be suffering from the general malaise, low energy and lack of motivation that burnout brings. A talk with a compassionate boss and a week off to forget work could be a lifesaver.

We all know that taking time off work is crucial for our health, wellbeing and productivity. We need to recharge our energy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually by not just leaving the office, but forgetting all about work for a certain period of time (that means no reading emails on the beach).

You could guarantee that a generous, humane policy like this would decrease sickness absence through the year, and grateful, healthy employees would likely be more loyal in return.

Hanging Out Over the River
Photo by Dane Deaner / Unsplash

Everyone's needs are different

Bigger allowances are just one way of improving your annual leave offering.

You should be comfortable with encouraging staff to take time off in general. Making sure they take their full leave allowance throughout the year will help prevent holiday pile-up at the year's end, but will also keep everyone feeling rested and sharp.

So you might consider a policy where everyone has to take at least one week off every quarter to make sure they stay rested. If someone complains that they can't save it up for their 3-week trip to India in the summer, just give them the extra leave anyway.

It might sound bonkers, but you'll end up with a delighted employee who won't be eager to find a new job as soon as they're back. They get to take their dream trip, and you get to avoid a burnt-out worker slogging through half a year without a single break.

(A lot of leave goes unused simply because it's forgotten about. For some folks, that's fine - work keeps them ticking and they find themselves twiddling their thumbs during time off. But if you find someone avoiding leave a lot, there might be a reason like a problematic home life they want to avoid. If so, it's worth offering some compassion and seeing what else you can do to help.)

Unlimited leave won’t bring the same advantages as generous leave, though. That comes with its own set of problems. While it sounds attractive and is pretty popular at progressive companies and startups, it often leads to a culture of blurred lines, where nobody’s sure what's an acceptable amount of leave to take. This can lead to people actually taking less leave than they otherwise would. Better to keep clear but flexible lines, so people know where they stand.


All this goes towards building a better culture for taking leave - and all the benefits that brings.

In our ideal workplace, employees could say “I’m having a day off next week because of my daughter's birthday” not “Can I please have a day off because of my daughter's birthday?

It might sound a bit idealistic, especially if you’re in a rigid corporate environment. But a culture that supports time off is one that supports better health, wellbeing, performance and productivity. Maybe it’s time to take another look at your annual leave policy.