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How to handle your holiday policy as lockdown lifts

June 16, 2020

The past few months have been anything but business as normal for the majority of business owners and their teams the world over. We’ve seen successful pivots, an accelerated shift towards digital as well as acts of kindness and generosity in our communities along the way.
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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People have certainly been putting in the work, despite incredibly difficult circumstances. And thanks to initiatives such as government-backed loans and furlough, many businesses have been able to get through the toughest times of lockdown financially too.

By now you probably have a clearer view of where your business is headed, or at least confidence in a team that has adapted to a new kind of working life. But with a lot of question marks still hanging around the shape of our recovery, the last thing any business leader wants is every employee requesting the same time off. Or worse still, the whole team burning out.

As an employer it’s your job to make sure your team takes adequate holiday. It’s in both parties’ best interest. But what can you do to make sure annual leave is used in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on your business?

Let’s take a look at some of the key considerations.

You absolutely want your team to take holidays

Coronavirus has presented a variety of challenges to our personal and working lives: there have no doubt been frantic days and sleepless nights over the last few months. Making sure you and your team have a chance to recharge is really important – we all know getting rest helps us refocus and engage with our work better.

Employees should take regular breaks away from the demands of their inbox, meetings and company targets. You don’t want them to hit burnout, which is a very real threat as the boundaries between work and personal life have faded now that our homes have also become the office. The added stress and anxiety that living through a pandemic has caused can’t be ignored either.

Employees might not want to take leave

So we all know using annual leave is crucial to maintaining mental wellbeing but it’s definitely a hard sell right now – even a staycation looks uncertain. Convincing anyone that taking a week off during a pandemic will actually be a restful time isn’t going to be easy. Plus, you run the risk of making certain assumptions about their home life.

Everyone has different living situations. Younger people in flat shares (possibly with people they don’t get on with) or parents who are looking after their kids, for example, probably won’t get the most relaxing break. Take this into account when talking to your team about their holiday allowance. Spending a week in the same space you’ve been working in for months, and around other people who might not be taking a break, is not quality respite.

Legally, you’re allowed to make taking annual leave compulsory, as long as you let your team know twice as many days as the number you’re proposing in advance. The Acas website has broken down your full employer rights when it comes to this if you’re interested.

However, think about the repercussions this could have on morale and trust. We need to stick together more than ever right now, and in a small team this could have negative results. If the reason that people aren’t taking a full week off is that their situation itself won’t lead to a restorative break, enforcing a specific time is hardly going to help.

Consider how much leave to carry over

On 27 March, the Government announced temporary regulations allowing anyone whose ability to take holiday had been compromised by COVID-19 to carry over four weeks of statutory leave over the next two years.

Most businesses allow employees to carry over up to 5 days’ leave into the next holiday year anyway. For teams who are short staffed due to coronavirus in industries such as food or healthcare, this is great news. In theory, any industry can make use of this policy and increase the number of days they’ll allow their team to ‘roll over’.

If you’re running a lean team or business and your workload has picked up, not everyone will realistically be able to take leave for a while. Giving your employees the option of using some of this year’s holiday allowance next year will help reassure them that you care. The most worrying thing for a lot of people will be that they ‘lose’ the annual leave that they’ve earned.

At MarketFinance for example, we’ve adapted our regular policy to let our team take up to 8 days of holiday into 2021 rather than the 5 we usually offer. Allowing your team to take holiday that goes beyond staying in their front room should offer a better use of their annual leave. Hopefully it’ll maintain trust too, which is especially important at the moment.

Encourage long weekends instead of lengthy getaways

A whole week of holiday during lockdown or in the months that follow may seem like a waste to your team, and that’s understandable. It’s not clear where you’ll be able to go or do, and even a ‘staycation’ is currently off the cards.

Try encouraging employees to take a day or two around the weekend off instead. It’s a way of making sure your team gets a little more rest and downtime without forcing a whole week of free time with limited options for how to use itt. Doing this should help show you’re more concerned with keeping them motivated and well, rather than simply trying to avoid the same holiday requests from everyone.

Ask more senior people to take a day or two off to set precedent, if you can. Anyone junior may reasonably be worried about their job security right now, and might not want to seem like they have a weak work ethic. Keep discussions open and encouraging around holiday to ease any concerns.

Reward overtime with holiday to take now

If the size of your team allows for it, reward those who worked overtime to help you achieve results during lockdown. These people are most at risk of burnout and should know that you value and appreciate them. Employers like the Bank of England have done this, and you can see how it would boost morale.

By giving extra days of holiday this month, employees are more likely to take some time off now, and not necessarily all scramble for dates in September. Other team members may start booking time off once they see people using their allowance.

You could also make a particular day a company-wide holiday, if this is possible given your workload and the type of work you do as a business. Taking a day off together that doesn’t eat out of their own allowance will show that you care about your team’s wellbeing. It may also encourage anyone who hasn’t taken a day off since lockdown began to think about taking some now.

Set reasonable leave booking deadlines

This is likely to be met with some negativity, but might be critical in making sure you don’t have to deal with multiple requests in the final quarter. Many HR departments have announced a particular percentage of allowance that must be used by the end of July or August to avoid exactly this.

If the summer is usually a quieter time for your business anyway, and is when you usually anticipate most leave, it’s reasonable to want your team to use holiday then. Firms like Deloitte have asked their employees to use 60% of their annual leave by the end of August, and EY have ‘strongly encouraged’ their 17,000 UK employees to take 70% by 31 August.

At the end of April we asked our teams to take 5 days of their annual leave before August if they’d taken fewer than 5 days off so far this year. For those who have taken more than 5 days off, we’ve asked them to take 3 more days by the end of July too. The most important thing is that managers are talking about this and planning with their teams to make sure leave is balanced.  

If you don’t want to let people roll their holiday over to next year, or end up requesting a week off every month until Christmas, it might make sense to enforce this.

What does this mean for the future of holidays?

There’s a chance that our concepts of annual leave and holidays will completely change after the pandemic. We’re used to equating a holiday with a trip abroad. But how many of us will be jumping on EasyJet for a few days here and there when international travel is still uncertain? There’s a lot of talk about a second wave, and countries can shut down at very short notice.

As much as the future of the office is a huge question on everyone’s mind right now, the future of being ‘out of office’ deserves some thought too. With the possibility that we dip in and out of lockdown and no clear sense of our ‘new normal’, planning ahead is difficult, and holidays may become more about downtime than adventure and travel.

As an employer, it may be worth considering how your company values take this into consideration, and what you can do to promote the idea of holiday not needing to be a week in the sun. Our COVID-19 Impact Support Hub has plenty more advice and resources to help you navigate the current challenges.

Why leave it there?

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