Unlimited holiday benefits reduce sick days and attract talent

Recruiters failing to offer unlimited holiday to consultants could be running the risk of increased sick days and staff turnover.

New data from the Office for National Statistics reveals Britons are taking more holidays than two decades ago, with data showing UK residents went on more than 45m foreign holidays in 2016 – up from 27m in 1996 – equivalent to a 68% rise in holidays over the last 20 years.

Picking up on this trend, recruiters are increasingly offering unlimited holiday allowance as a benefit to attract consultants to come and work for them.

But the benefit is not only an attraction tool, according to Expand Executive Search's CEO Samantha Maxwell-Reed, an agency that has offered unlimited holiday to consultants since January last year.

Since that date, Expand reports that staff turnover has decreased by 10%, while the average number of sickness days taken per employee has reduced by 50% and the agency has posted 52% growth in sales. Meanwhile, the average annual days holiday taken is 28 in comparison from 25 before the initiative launched.

“We aim to keep it as policy-free as we can, but some guidelines are required,” Maxwell-Reed told Recruiter. “Paid time off needs to be requested 10 days in advance and is co-ordinated by each team director to stop everyone being off at once. Employees are also allowed no more than 10 consecutive working days off in each month but can take more than 10 days in a month.

“However, we want to offer colleagues the freedom to make a responsible choice that allows them a great work/life balance outside of this. Flexibility does not translate to a lack of accountability. We are confident that high performance is so ingrained in Expand’s culture that we can trust the team to act responsibly.”

Andy Shatwell, managing director at Charlton Morris, an agency that also offers the unlimited holiday benefit, warns agencies that do not offer this risk consultants seeking pastures new.

“The danger of companies not treating employees like adults is that ultimately they will become frustrated and move on, top performers in particular.”

But he adds a note of caution, advising recruiters should proceed with care when introducing such a benefit.

“Introducing an initiative such as unlimited holidays has to be done so with care; expectations have to be set out from the start and senior management have to be seen to encourage taking time off and believe that it will increase productivity and engagement in the long term. If handled badly it can alienate employees and make them fearful of handing in a holiday request and ultimately negate the whole process.”

Meanwhile, Guy Hayward, CEO at professional recruiter Goodman Masson, describes the trend as “just part of the modern workplace”.

“We have an exotic holiday fund, which is in place for our people to take long distance, long holidays – so two or three weeks away. We pay for that holiday upfront and they can pay that back through a series of salary deductions over 18 months – that’s how serious we take encouraging people to have long holidays.

“We do long weekend breaks for work, so we went to the Northern Lights last year. We’re off to New York for Christmas this year – we don’t take that away from people’s holiday entitlement.”

Hayward echoes Shatwell’s warning about consultants looking for a new employer that does offer such benefits. “They will seek to move elsewhere. Expectations people have of the working experience are linked to their lifestyle and if you’re not offering it, they’ll go and find it elsewhere.

But the idea of offering such a benefit is not popular with everyone. Elliott Manning, managing director at Kayman Recruitment, who told Recruiter back in 2014 he was against offering unlimited holiday, still holds that position.

“If a business is offering unlimited holiday I can see the benefits in certain industries but then when it comes to a sales-based industry it doesn’t fit.

“For example, if a recruiter takes three or four weeks off it’s going to affect their pipeline and ultimately over a three-month period of the year, that’s going to affect business. The one-month build up, the month they’re away and the month they come back they are starting again. 

“I am against it for those reasons – I just don’t think it sits well in a sales-based role.”

• What’s your opinion of unlimited holidays in recruitment? Email and let us know at [email protected] or tweet us below to tell us your thoughts. We will run comments online in a round-up at the end of the week.

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