Turning over a new leave

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on March 12, 2018

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From birthdays to pet adoptions – why employers the world over are letting staff take a day off for unusual reasons

The boss might raise an eyebrow if you asked for a day off on your birthday, but GoZoop, a digital-first marketing company, actually gives its employees a day off for their birthdays. Co-founder Ahmed Aftab Naqvi claims that they, in fact, were the first company to offer period leave, on International Women’s Day (March 8) this year, but didn’t go to town about it. Menstrual leave created quite a sensation recently in this country. While a few companies fell over each other to announce that they were offering the facility, public discourse saw arguments for and against the move. While it definitely sounds unusual, the facility has been on offer in other Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and parts of China, where women employees have to produce a certificate to use it.

Across the world, companies and countries offer leave facilities that might sound offbeat in others. In Belgium, for instance, by royal decree, employees can take leave of absence with pay for important family events including a child’s first Holy Communion and a family member’s ordination/entry into a monastery or convent. Grandparental leave is on the anvil in the UK, and in Japan, congratulations leave for marriage or birth of a child is a common practice.

At GoZoop, those who have completed 3, 5, 7 and 10 years with the company get additional paid leave of that many days respectively. It also offers 15-day and 30-day breaks for those who have completed 18 and 30 months with the company, and unpaid leave over and above that to pursue interests.

Wooing millennials

All this is done with an eye on the millennials. “To get the best output, we have to see what we can do to create the workplace where people can do the best work of their lives. It creates a lot of positivity and productivity goes up. Attrition is lower too,” says Naqvi. It also builds an atmosphere of trust all round, with employers trusting employees and the latter responding with responsibility and no misuse of the facilities. On New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day, the office shuts down at 3 pm.

Building trust and fostering cooperation is another motive behind such facilities. The Godrej group has been offering unlimited sick leave since 2011. Sumit Mitra, Head – Group Human Resources and Corporate Services, Godrej Industries and Associate Companies, says the idea stemmed from the thought that “one cannot put a number to falling sick and you cannot plan your illness or recovery. Our team members can avail sick leave on a need to basis’ and it is completely trust-based.” It has actually helped reduce the number of sick leaves, from an average 9.2 earlier to 8.3.

Women employees at the group are also given leave for fertility treatment. This was a response to an increase in leave taken for this reason. “In 2016, we announced that we will consider leaves taken for fertility treatment as part of the unlimited sick leaves,” says Mitra. This is offered to the women because they require a period of rest and recovery during this time. If required men too can avail themselves of sick leave for this purpose.

Some firms have a leave donation policy. Accenture has an ‘Hours That Help’ leave sharing programme for individuals facing crises such as medical emergencies or serious health conditions which demand their taking time off from work over and above their entitlement. Under this scheme, an employee can donate a maximum of five days of leave to those in need. People are very open to sharing their leave balance if they know they cannot utilise it themselves, says a spokesperson. There is no other incentive earned other than “tremendous goodwill”. Accenture also saw that many people did not exhaust their leave fully by the end of the year. This offered an opportunity for them to address both the situations.

Godrej’s Mitra says, “We have observed that our employees feel more valued and respected when we invest trust in them. They are also less stressed about keeping a count of their sick leaves and are able to strike a better work-life balance with flexible work policies.”

Other needs & situations

Around the world, some companies insist on ‘compulsory leave’ to ensure their employees are refreshed, and in some, leave facilities improve with the employees’ age. In Sweden, employees have the right to take six months off to start their own business. Many countries’ laws mandate specific leave days to enable citizens to perform civic responsibilities such as blood donation and jury duty. Puerto Rico offers a day off for employees to go and get their driving licence. For organ donation, Canadian laws provide for unpaid leave ranging from 13-26 weeks. In some provinces there, employees are entitled to unpaid leave of up to 52 weeks if their child goes missing. Scottish brewer Brewdog’s earlier this year announced one week’s paid leave for workers who adpot a puppy or a rescue dog.

Published on August 16, 2017

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