02 December 2020

Company Days Off: translating good intentions into good practice


#WorkingWorld

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a challenge many people often face. With the ongoing homeworking revolution, instigated by the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have found that the lines between our work and personal lives have become increasingly blurred and finding the right balance has been tricky. However, with businesses bearing a financial cost of the pandemic, and usual staff engagement tools being focused on the office environment (despite many now working from home), businesses are increasingly giving their employees a ‘Company Day Off’ in an attempt to address the issue.

Thomson Reuters made World Mental Health Day a permanent company holiday and Unilever recently gave all employees a ‘Global Day of Thanks’ due to the increased pandemic-related workload. By allowing for these days off, employers are attempting to give all staff a day of leave without accompanying work distractions so that they may feel truly rested. But whilst companies may have good intentions, there are certain things to consider when implementing Company Days Off so that those good intentions translate into good practice.

How can you ensure the day delivers on its promises?

Firstly, if the day is being offered as a voluntary measure, you need to make sure that those who want to take it off do not feel pressured by managers to work. Company-wide support for the day should be encouraged and ensuring buy in from managers at all levels, before you implement it, is likely to be the most effective measure. If the day off is being offered as unpaid, you should consider if there will be sufficient take up to give the benefits that the business is looking for.

Secondly, contemplating the practicalities and consequences of any proposed day off is imperative. For example, it may not be possible to allow all employees to take the same day off and so arrangements may need to be made to ensure that those who have to work will get a day off another time. Similarly, if most employees are having a day off, you will need to consider what contingencies are in place to cover any unforeseen urgent work. A key part of this will be ensuring that you give appropriate notice to employees and business contacts to enable everyone to plan for the day sufficiently far in advance, not least to ensure that the day off does not just result in employees working harder the day before and day after to make up time.

Is the Company Day Off for now, or for ever?

It is yet to be seen whether these days off will be a one-off response to the pandemic or will become a feature in the company calendar in years to come. If you are giving these days off to directly address the issues caused by the pandemic, then discontinuing when a level of normality returns should be straightforward.

However, not all Company Days Off have been directly linked to the global pandemic. For instance, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests several American corporate giants – including Nike, Twitter and Spotify – declared that they would make 19 June (“Juneteenth”) a Company Day Off for all employees. Employees may expect such days off to continue, even after the pandemic, or may be disappointed if they don’t. Communication is key here both as to the purpose of the day off and to future plans.

What are the reasons behind the Company Day Off, and is one day enough?

If the day off is being given to coincide with a particular social issue or cause, there may be a danger that employees will expect the business to mark other issues or causes in the same way. Company Days Off should be approached carefully so as to prevent creating a hierarchy of causes or alienating employees. Combining a Company Day Off with other measures as part of a wider programme to address the relevant issue could help avoid the day appearing like a token gesture. For example, when making World Mental Health Day a Company Day Off, Thomson Reuters suggested downloading their ‘Headspace app’ or partaking in the company activities on mental health.

In particular, for businesses with a minimum level of paid holiday provision or where employees don’t regularly take all of their holiday, there may be more effective ways to address longer term work life balance issues. Offering a single extra day off during a crisis may appear more like a sticking plaster than a cure. Company days off are just one of the creative ways that you can address issues that arise in our changing workplace. Planning ahead and considering the issues above will help you get the maximum benefit from the day off, for both employees and the business as a whole.

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