Our Leave Policy: Not a nice to have but a necessity

Posted on: 15 December 2022

This blog is part of a wider series on our People and Culture. For the past few months, we have been highlighting some of the core elements of our workplace culture, along with recommendations for embedding new practices within your own organisation. This is the last blog in the series but you can see November’s blog on the 4 Ways in Which Our Organisational Structure Benefits Us.

A red flag when looking at how an organisation treats their staff is how they talk about holiday leave. Do they mention their generous 28 day holiday policy? Yikes, definitely stay away because that is statutory holiday entitlement for most workers in the UK (it changes depending on the conditions of your role – e.g. part-time). It’s not a perk, it’s your legal right. At Student Hubs we operate a minimum leave policy which outlines that all full-time members of staff are entitled to and expected to take 28 days paid leave, and once that’s met individuals can keep taking leave as much as they want. We don’t see this as a perk either – it’s a policy like any other that’s in place to support our team to thrive at work and in this blog we’ll explore how. 

Unlimited leave: the dream 

I started at Student Hubs in 2016 when the leave policy was an ‘Unlimited Holiday Policy’ – we were encouraged to take as much leave as we needed as long as we were meeting our objectives. At the time, our Communications Manager Molly Brown (nee Whyte) wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian outlining this policy, how the team felt about it, and how it had supported her. This article became infamous among the staff team due to the responses Molly received in the comments. Some commenters also working in the charity sector responded negatively feeling that this approach would negatively impact the people they worked with and that the team would take advantage of such a generous policy and no work would get done. Some even claimed that if they weren’t doing their job people would die. We encourage you to challenge this perspective. Everyone is entitled to and deserves a break, even staff on the frontline of vital services. You shouldn’t be the only person responsible for the wellbeing and safety of others, and in order to do your work well, you need rest. Research has shown that taking time off is incredibly beneficial for your wellbeing and for your productivity. It is only when you are well rested that you can bring all of your energy and innovation to work. 

At Student Hubs we definitely saw more creative, energised staff who were able to bring more to the students and community groups we work with. A happier, rested staff team had more energy and more enthusiasm for the work they were doing. Organisations across the world have seen this effect, at the time the article was written both Netflix and LinkedIn had similar policies – it worked for us as a team of 20 and it worked for them as teams of hundreds.

Making sure our policies work for us 

Though the policy was sound, we started noticing a few problems with how it was conducted in practice. Unlimited holiday sounded great but we often saw that staff weren’t actually taking much leave, in fact they weren’t even taking their statutory entitlement. In practice it wasn’t supporting the team in the way we wanted it to. Though they could take as much leave as they wanted, there was no system in place to ensure that leave was being taken, and slowly we saw energy and wellbeing becoming a problem. So that’s when we decided to move to a new process. 

Our current policy is a minimum leave policy – it’s a subtle change, but now it focuses on ensuring that our team takes at least 28 days, and if they’re meeting their objectives and delivering well in their roles, they can continue to take leave with no limit. To make this policy function well we need to ensure the team is well supported. To support our team’s wellbeing we have regular weekly catch ups, strong wellbeing policies, and processes to catch the team when things get busy or stressful. Our small senior management team also ensures there is always someone on call for emergencies. To ensure goals are well defined, essential for the team to feel able to take a break, we need to be clear about people’s roles and responsibilities, and the expectations we have around how this work is completed.

Together this builds a culture of support, which alongside our ambitious goals as an organisation has to be balanced with trust. Our team needs to feel we are genuinely invested in them and their progression as well as their outcomes.

We also support our team to balance their leave and workload with two closure periods over the course of the year. As an organisation which works to the academic calendar, our work has peaks and troughs and we work with our team to ensure we have capacity during our busy periods and encourage leave when there isn’t as much on, and that means staff can use their leave for actually holidays and personal plans, opposed to having to use it only to rest and catch up with themselves. 

What can you do?

A minimum leave policy isn’t for the faint hearted as you can see, it takes a lot of work to get right, but it’s worth taking the risk to find out what works for you and, if you lead a team, what works for them. Maybe it’s not a different leave policy, maybe it’s a 4-day week or a 9-day fortnight, but we shouldn’t feel like the world of work is set, like everything we can innovate and make sure everyone is thriving in their roles.

This brings an end to our People and Culture Blog Series, you can catch up on the rest here: 

If you are interested in learning more about our network structure, or ways to bring these practices into your own workspaces, please contact our Partnerships and Development Director, Fiona Walsh at fiona.walsh@studenthubs.org.

Simran Dhanjal-Field

Sim is our CEO at Student Hubs! You can reach out to her at sim.dhanjal@studenthubs.org

Tags: People and Culture

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