Forget unlimited leave, try a minimum leave policy

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If you’ve ever worried about people taking time off work, you’re missing the point.

You should be more worried about people not taking time off.

There is a lot of media buzz around the concept of an unlimited time off policy – sounds amazing (to employees, at least), but in reality, this is a luxury enjoyed by big tech and media companies turning over billions each year.

For your average small business, unlimited time off just isn’t affordable, nor realistic.

But the underlying principle of striving to have rested employees who feel valued and not afraid to take some personal time when they need it remains valid.

People can’t work all the time, and they shouldn’t.

It’s also no good having a generous leave policy in principle, but an unspoken expectation that you don’t take advantage of it in practice.

So what’s the solution?

Why not try a minimum leave policy where, instead of stating the maximum number of days off your employees are entitled to per year, you state the minimum that they should take. And then you enforce it – for example, requiring that people take a certain number of days every 3 rolling months, and checking in when they haven’t booked off this time.

Shifting the focus in this way has a big impact – you’re not only telling your employees they can take time off, but you’re also stressing that they must. That they’ve earned this time, you don’t resent them taking it, and that you see it as beneficial for both them and the company.

It’s a myth that to be driven, to get ahead in business and in your career, and to be successful, you need to sacrifice downtime, holiday time, and family time.

This isn’t the case.

Instead of thinking about ‘success’ as being something we achieve only at work, we can see it as a feature of a whole, well-rounded life.

Success doesn’t only happen at work. If you’re doing well in your job, that’s fantastic, but maybe that means you can, or should, take some time to focus on another area of your life that you've been neglecting, whether that’s your family, a hobby you’ve let fall by the wayside, or a big trip you’ve always wanted to take.

Had a busy year, knocked those deadlines out of the park, and maybe got a promotion – instead of feeling the pressure to keep ‘showing up’ and constantly bettering your success, why not reward yourself with a holiday?

It’s important to take time to rest and reset.

An athlete has to recuperate between events, they can’t perform at their peak continuously – neither can you.

If you don’t take time off, your performance will suffer.

Employers play an important role in determining what kind of attitude staff have to success and time off.

Whilst you might have explicit policies, standards, and expectations that don’t place unreasonable demands on employees, what are your unspoken, implicit expectations and standards?

Think about wording, too.

Does your annual leave policy use words like ‘accrued’, ‘entitled to’, ‘allowed’?

On a subconscious level, what impression does this give staff about how management feel about them taking time off? How might that change, if you used terms like ‘earned’, ‘should/must’, and ‘encouraged to’?

Have no doubt about it, your employees want time off.

Make sure they know that you want that too, by implementing a ‘minimum leave’ policy.

To really drive a paradigm shift, though, you need to make sure you enforce the policy – keep tabs on who’s taken their time off and who hasn’t, and send out prompts to book days off when you can see that they’re needed. An app like Leave Dates can be really helpful with this, allowing you to track how many days off an individual employee has taken off over a given period – if they haven’t had a break in three months, give them a nudge, they’ll thank you for it!



Our co-founder, Phil, loves people, problem-solving and making life easier for small businesses. If you book a Leave Dates demo, he will give you a warm welcome and show you everything that you need to know.