Does unlimited annual leave actually work?

Employers need to view it as just another number in the flexibility formula

Does unlimited annual leave actually work?

Three years ago, Inventium launched its unlimited annual leave policy and it made headlines around the world.

However, at the time it also attracted many sceptics, according to Inventium’s founder Dr Amantha Imber.

“Another way of the company owning you 24/7”, “Sounds like a clever kind of reverse psychology strategy to make people feel obligated to work more and holiday less” and “The woman is an airhead” were just some of the online feedback she received.

So how has the policy worked out? Revenue and profitability have remained strong, while staff energy levels have increased and working hours have decreased.

“Three years on, my biggest learning is that the reason why it’s been so successful for us is because it’s not an isolated employee benefit,” said Imber.

“Its success has been largely due to all the other benefits that surround our unlimited leave policy.”

Indeed, when the company surveys staff about what they value most about Inventium, flexibility is always at the top of the list.

“And while around 80% of organisations claim to have a flexible work policy, when you dig a bit deeper, it’s not actually that flexible at all,” she said.

Imber recently worked with a financial services company who externally claimed to have such a policy, however staff were still required to be online roughly between 9am to 5pm and were not trusted to work from home or anywhere else that was not their Sydney CBD office.

Imber said there are three factors that have been critical to Inventium in creating a workplace where flexibility is the number one thing that staff value.

Work whenever you want - but ideally, work to your Chronotype.
Most Flexi work policies let staff start an hour early or finish an hour late. Few encourage staff to formally assess their natural circadian rhythms and work accordingly.

At Inventium, all staff assess their Chronotype – which highlights when they are at their most energetic and focused – and schedule their work accordingly. Given most of the team are Larks (people who do their best work in the morning), we have some team members start work as early as 5am. And of course on the flip side, on any given weekday, the office is mostly empty by 4pm.

Of course, if consultants are delivering a workshop, their time clock will be determined by our client’s schedule, but for the most part, working hours are determined by people’s natural energy rhythms.

Work (literally) wherever you want.
Despite the fact that there are about 10 of us who are based in Inventium’s head office in Melbourne, you’ll only find three or four people there on most weekdays. Staff are strongly encouraged to work from wherever they get their best work done. For many of us, this means working from home where we can work uninterrupted. For others, including myself, this means working from cafes where the white noise, but lack of interruptions from co-workers, creates the perfect focus-inducing environment.

And for the last six months for our head analyst, this has meant working part-time from a villa in Italy. Nick and his fiancée had been planning a European gap half-year for a long time, and rather than pick berries on a farm or work in a pub, I asked Nick whether he wanted to work part-time for Inventium while he was away, to which he said yes.

READ MORE: The rise and rise of flexible working

Holiday whenever you want
I believe the icing on the cake to our flexible work policy is that not only can people work where and when they like, they can holiday whenever they like.

An unlimited leave policy means you no longer have to plan holidays with military precision, ensuring that you save up the exact number of leave days required to avoid going into negative leave. And of course, with this means having to endure months of zero leave thanks to planning for a huge multi-week overseas adventure.

At Inventium, staff can tune into their own energy needs when it comes to planning or taking holidays – whether that be several week marathon holidays or mini-vacations using just an extra day or two of leave.

Interestingly, the average number of leave that staff take has levelled out at between 5-6 weeks. This seems to be enough for one significant holiday and several mini-breaks. I’ve certainly found this to be true in my own working rhythm.

So rather than view unlimited leave as a standalone employee benefit, employers need to view it as just another number in the flexibility formula.

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