Should you take an entire day of precious annual leave to wait for the broadband engineer to visit? What about getting the car repaired, or dealing with a flooded basement?

Conventional wisdom suggests it's your only choice. But there might be a better way of doing things.

Some innovative companies are giving employees extra time off for the things that work gets in the way of - or for when life just throws you lemons. Life leave is additional annual leave that’s granted on top of existing leave (including sickness absence and the like) for important things that don't involve rest.

Brewing company Molson Coors recently introduced life leave for its 2000+ employees across the UK and Ireland. The policy "enables employees to take up to two weeks of paid leave for significant personal situations, such as settling in a new pet, moving house, studying for exams or making the final preparations for a wedding”.

It’s really quite generous and seems like a great way to go the extra mile for employee wellbeing - something we’re big fans of.

Another company, Ernst & Young, now give its Australian employees six to twelve weeks (!) life leave each year to “travel, work part-time, or simply do nothing.” The policies are an effort to address the growing demand for flexible working from travel-minded millennials.

But this one seems a little too good to be true. EY, as it’s now known, is one of the world’s biggest accounting firms and is notoriously competitive. This could be a bit of a PR spin, but maybe I’m just being cynical. I would wonder, though - why just the Aussie employees? And does it apply to everyone, from the top dogs to the juniors? I’d wager a good number of their 270,000 global employees might not be happy at missing out on such a generous benefit.

That said, if it's a real benefit, it sounds brilliant.

Life leave does what other leaves don't

As Adam Firby, HR director at Molson Coors says about their program,

"There are often things going on in our lives which we would normally use annual leave to sort out, but this eats into actual downtime.”

This is a really important point. We shouldn't have to use up our precious rest time for life admin.

In another article, we explored how to plan holiday allowance through the year:

"It’s also worth bearing in mind whether or not you want to account for each day of leave. While you might want to plan every single day of leave as soon as you can, it can be useful to keep a couple on hand for unexpected necessities.
If you’re happy that your company will give you additional time off for unplanned reasons like family emergencies, or having to wait at home for a package delivery or BT engineer, then go ahead and get booking. Some might like to keep a spare day or two of leave until the end of the year for things like that.”

We all have things going on in life. And some are hard to explain in the workplace - if you’re distracted due to a relationship break-up, it can make work almost impossible, but it seems silly to take a sick day for it. And you wouldn't plan a holiday in advance to be sad over a breakup, would you? This is exactly the kind of thing life leave would be ideal for.

So could your company introduce it as policy?

Moving Day
Photo by Erda Estremera / Unsplash

The downsides of life leave

It’d be interesting to know how the above ideas work out for these large organisations. We’ve seen before how admirable and progressive annual leave policies have been abandoned, as not everyone could agree on who gets what. The Wellcome Trust had to scrap plans for its 4-day work week due to complexities - it’s hard to agree when the organisation has such a variety in job roles and necessary tasks.

You can imagine a life leave policy causing similar problems. Maybe your graphic designer can skip the afternoon to take his dog to the vet, but what about your IT helpdesk advisor? And can she do the same for her pet goldfish or tarantula?

A similar debate comes up occasionally when menstrual leave is suggested as an option.

While it’s a nice idea, as it does affect women's comfort and ability to work, it’s not without controversy (as you can see from the lively debate in the comment section of the article linked above). How do you, as an employer, know when the leave is really justified? Will the system get abused? Is it unfair on men? And if some don’t suffer as much as others, why should they have to work when others don’t?

These questions could easily be applied to life leave.

Prioritising a leave-positive culture

It all comes down to company priorities and culture-building.

If your company is stretched to the limit, with people working overtime to hit targets, with every minute of their day measured for productivity, you’ll be wary of granting extra leave to anyone. Especially if it can be taken at short-notice.

For jobs where you have to have a certain number of people present, like restaurants, transport, logistics, construction, etc., your headcount will be precious and tightly controlled. That’s understandable, and doesn’t necessarily point towards a toxic culture. Life leave isn’t practical for paramedics and pilots.

But if you’re running a service-based business where the creative output of employee minds are bringing in the most value, it’s worth offering. If their output can be shuffled around on a calendar, some extra time off in return for better wellbeing (and therefore productivity) might be a good idea.

If life leave is implemented, it needs to be communicated properly, so there aren’t any misunderstandings, and so people don’t take the mick. Write it down as part of a properly documented absence policy and you should be able to avoid conflict.

Feature photo by Braden Hopkins on Unsplash