A couple of weeks ago, my company, Inventium, announced to staff that they would now have unlimited, uncapped, paid, annual leave.
I made this decision because of the unfairness inherent in typical Australian employment contracts. In Australia, by law, people are entitled to four weeks paid annual leave, yet employment contracts state that a full-time employee works a 38-hour week. At Inventium (as with many workplaces), this is generally not the case. Working hours tend to be longer than 38 hours which, for us, is what happens when you have an incredibly dedicated team who truly care about what they do and the clients they look after.
This situation – the inequity between what workplaces in Australia are legally obliged to do and what happens in reality – really felt wrong. Annual leave was capped, yet working hours were not.
When I announced the new policy to my team, the reaction was huge. Because of the large amount of travel our innovation consultants do, this often means time away from family. Being able to now have the freedom to take an unlimited amount of leave when coming off an intense few weeks of travel or even just from working long hours, means they can spend more time at home with loved ones.
The majority of my team are women, and there are a handful of people with young children (myself included). I think that as a parent, having the flexibility to be more physically present for your kids, especially during times when you feel it’s been lacking, is pure gold. And unfortunately, this is something that most full-time working parents don’t have the luxury of doing.
After the announcement of our new policy, the media jumped on the story in a big way. I was asked to write about our policy for Huffington Post and the Daily Mail, and have spoken to ABC radio, The Project, and Weekend Today, among others. As I write this, the media enquiries are still rolling in.
It is striking that for many people this feels like new news. Providing unlimited paid annual leave has been around since at least 2010, when Netflix announced they were instituting it. Since then, several Silicon Valley companies have followed suit, along with others outside of the Valley. I certainly didn’t implement this policy as a publicity stunt (as one online commenter suggested) - it would be slightly insane to implement a policy like this just for some PR. To me, the publicity highlights not how innovative Inventium is, but how backwards Australian companies are in not focusing their innovation efforts inwards - towards their employees.
I have also felt somewhat nonplussed. While the majority of feedback I’ve read and received has been insanely wonderful, the Daily Mail piece attracted some pretty nasty reader comments. People said that I was doing this to “trick” people into feeling guilty and thus working harder (seriously?) and one commenter called me an “airhead” for putting this in place (charming!). When reading these comments, I felt disappointed, but after reflection, I came to the conclusion that it’s more about them than me. If you’ve had, and are used to, a rigid or harsh workplace environment, perhaps you might look cynically at organisations trying to do the right thing by their people.
Watch Michelle Bridges weigh-in on work/life balance. Post continues...
Since the announcement, I’ve been asked by people whether I think an unlimited paid leave policy would work in all organisations, and my answer is no. This policy works when you have a highly engaged workforce who love what they do and where trust is high between leaders and staff. If this is not the case, then I can absolutely imagine scenarios where a policy like this is abused.
My hope from all the publicity is simple. I hope that at least one business (if not many) read about what Inventium is doing, reflect on any inequity their company may exhibit with their staff (in the way of capping leave, but not putting a cap on hours) and change their workplace for the better. And while I don’t believe this policy would work for every business, I hope that those that do have engaged staff who work hard, consider making a change to enable employees to have more balance between work and personal time in their lives.