Flexibility and work-life balance came to the fore after the pandemic altered the work culture globally. To balance professional and personal life and rejuvenate themselves, people need a leave of absence from office work. Despite being an essential part of professional life, employees still find it challenging to apply for leave. According to a recent survey by Randstad India, about 35 to 40% of the Indian workforce is unable to summon the courage to ask for leaves from their employers.
According to Irfan Khan who works with a private organisation, it has never been an easy task to apply for a leave. “In my career of more than ten years, I have not ever been lucky to have handsome hands at the workplace and apply for leave confidently,” says Khan. He, however, believes that most of it depends on the availability of manpower. However, in case of an emergency, one would expect a positive response.
So, does this indicate that our system is yet to adopt flexibility in a true sense? What are the possible reasons that make them hesitant to avail the facility which is offered to them to rejuvenate and relax from a regular routine?
Professionalism of the organisation is key
A common belief is that people at small organisations face bigger challenges when it comes to taking leaves as compared to established ones, says Pranav Prasoon, Chief People Officer, TruKKer. However, the size of the organisation is not a concern if the company is professional.
“More than big or small organisations, the issue I think is the trust and understanding between the employee and the reporting manager and people-friendly policies. If they really trust and care for each other then leave requests are approved without any hiccup, and support is extended,” he added.
“Excessive workload coupled with a sub-optimal leave policy causes burnout and affects employee performance and output,” says Umanath Nayak, Head HR, Wakefit.co.
The role of the manager
“Employees hesitate to apply for leave for various reasons. While issues with capacity and the pressure of deadlines will be prevalent in most organisations, the behaviour of the immediate manager and the culture of the organisation play a larger role in leave utilisation by employees,” says Yashmi Pujara, Chief Human Resources Officer, CACTUS Communication.
She further adds that if managers are flexible and plan work allocation keeping in mind the rest and rejuvenation needs of the team, employees are more likely to avail of leave. Also, managers need to demonstrate flexibility and compassion while having conversations about leave with their team.
On how managers should ideally respond to leave applications, Sarwari Das, a private sector employee, says that managers must respond wisely and compassionately. “When managers are compassionate enough, employees do not hesitate to discuss their leave plan in advance, except sick leaves and other unforeseen situations. People tend to lie about their leaves if their managers mistrust them,” she adds.
What employees can do
To address the problem irrespective of the size of an organization, Pujara suggests encouraging employees to avail of flexi-time and design their workday in a way that makes them optimally productive. “This allows them to take small breaks during the day to meet commitments to their family or pursue a passion and do focused work when they are at their best,” she adds.
On getting the leave approved, Prasoon advises employees to plan their leaves in advance. “It allows your manager to plan and allocate work to someone, without compromising on client expectations and quality of the work.” He adds that situation-based leaves such as sick leaves and others like – adoption, bereavement, maternity etc. are generally never questioned.
Also, employees can remember that leave is a right they have. Every employee is entitled to a certain number of monthly or annual leave in a calendar or financial year. “Taking a break from work due to personal or other reasons should not be questioned,” says Amarpreet Singh, Founder, Zenaca Consulting.
“In case of sick leaves, a call or message should be sufficient to inform your manager. Employees’ integrity should not be questioned when they are seeking a break from work due to sickness,” asserts Singh, adding that a trustworthy environment leads to a motivated workforce.
For earned leaves, “Having advanced information helps managers to plan easily and arrange a backup for those who are not present at the workplace. In both cases, the employees should be made comfortable discussing their leave plans with their manager and they should be accommodated accordingly,” adds Singh.
No questions asked leave policy
To promote an accountable and flexible work culture, Powerplay, a Bangalore-based start-up recently introduced ‘No Questions Asked Leave Policy for Employees’. As per the policy, an employee can opt for any number of leaves in a year. They will not be required to give a reason for this. “The idea is to promote an accountable and flexible work culture where the employees can take as many leaves and are also responsible for the tasks assigned to them,” says Iesh Dixit, Founder and CEO at Powerplay. According to him, having this kind of culture helps companies take care of the employees who in turn are happy and more productive.
Additionally, “Such policies can help start-ups retain their employees and attract new talent from the market in the growth stage,” believes Dixit.
Possible ways to overcome challenges
Organisations can use a multi-pronged approach to overcome the challenges related to leave.
Policies and processes – Understand the needs of your employees in the context of your work and institute policies and processes that make it possible for employees to take breaks without feeling guilty.
Cultural norms - Make sure your leaders and managers are demonstrating behaviors that send the right cues to employees.
Leverage tech and analytics - Companies can monitor employee data to measure whether leave utilisation is strong or weak within the organisation and have special interventions to support groups to improve leave utilisation. Similarly, technology can be used to send regular alerts and notifications to people when they have not availed of breaks.
“Organisations of today need to be employee-centric and empathetic in their approach. Promoting overall well-being of employees will help employers achieve larger goals while also ensuring a happy and satisfied workforce. Employees of a people-centric company are more likely to be confident, trusting, and loyal towards the business,” said
Tips for managers
- Model the behaviour you want to encourage.
- Create a culture of trust, autonomy, flexibility, and compassion; it opens doors for employees to be transparent about their needs, discover themselves, and unlock their true potential.
- Educate employees on when and how to disconnect from work.