To attract top talent and retain your existing stars, you might need to think outside the box when it comes to the leave policies you offer employees.
Our life events don’t always fit neatly into our number of allotted annual or personal leave days. Weddings crop up; grandchildren are born; and sometimes we’re thrown complicated curveballs that we need to attend to.
To this end, many organisations are offering progressive leave policies to attract new employees that are looking for more flexibility in how they work. They also want to show their existing workforce that they understand that life and work don’t always fit into a neat box.
While all these innovative ideas could work in almost all workplaces, Kris Grant, CEO of HR firm ASPL, says before implementing any, you should first ask employees what they need.
“There needs to be some consultation first and consideration of what will actually help your organisation,” she says. “Take the time to ask your employees, ‘Do you want more time with your fur babies?’ or ‘Would grandparent leave suit you?’.”
HRM looks into some interesting, creative leave policies that are being implemented in organisations across the country. We’re going to look at:
- Grandparent leave
- Vaccine leave
- Menstruation and menopause leave
- Pregnancy loss leave
- Gender affirmation leave
- Sorry Business leave
- Marriage leave
- Life leave
- Pawternity leave
- Flexible public holidays
1. Grandparent leave
Grandparent leave is fairly uncommon, but if you’re looking for a way to show your older workers that you appreciate their unique needs, this could be it.
Commercial real estate company Investa introduced grandparent leave in 2019. Investa employees with grandchildren can access five days’ paid leave to help care for, or just spend time with, a new born grandchild.
Australian National University has a similar offering for employees who are required to care for a grandchild. In this case, employees can take 12 months of unpaid leave.
With Australia’s borders shut for the foreseeable future, Grant believes employers will likely take on more older talent, so this can work as a way to attract those skilled workers. It’s also a great way to show your older workforce that their unique needs are taken into considersation.
2. Vaccine leave
In most cases, vaccine leave relates specifically to the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s usually used to get the jab and/or rest afterwards if the employee suffers any side effects.
AHRI’s general manager, people and culture, Rosemary Guyatt FCPHR, says offering vaccine leave policies removes a barrier.
“I think all employers have a role to make it easier for employees,” she says. “Encouraging employees to get it and allowing time off during the working day to do so, are really clear signs that the employer supports public health.”
Outside of certain sectors, such as aged care, employers cannot mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. So this type of leave should be entirely voluntary and only for those who want the vaccine.
“At the end of the day, it is a personal choice,” says Guyatt.
3. Menstrual and menopause leave
The conversation about offering leave for menstruation and menopause has been going on for years; the debate on this is multifaceted. Is it giving special treatment to certain employees? Is it reinforcing negative stereotypes about people who menstruate? Could it perpetuate negative stigmas about menstruation and menopause?
Grant doesn’t believe it should be thought of as special treatment. It’s simply showing compassion to common issues women face, she says.
However, she does think organisations need to be cautious when introducing these types of leave.
“If an employee takes sick leave, they don’t need to tell their employer what it’s for,” says Grant.
“When you create specific leave types, it forces an employee to put up their hand and say, ‘I’m on my period today. I can’t work.’ They might not be comfortable doing that.”
Organisations that want to introduce these types of leave should have strict confidentiality processes for employees applying for it, says Grant.
In May this year, women’s apparel brand Modibodi announced it was offering 10 days menstrual, menopause and miscarriage leave to its employees. Future Super and Victorian Women’s Trust also have similar policies in place.
Modibodi’s solution to avoid negative sentiment is to offer WFH alternatives for those who feel capable of working but might prefer to be at home with the comfort of a heat pack.
Let’s be clear, most people who are going through menopause or menstruating are capable of working. That said, there are many disorders, such as endometriosis, that make menstruation very painful and these, unfortunately, are much more common than we think.
4. Pregnancy loss leave
In 2020, Commonwealth Bank of Australia introduced 12 weeks of paid leave for employees who experience stillbirths.
Pregnancy loss leave isn’t particularly widespread. This is surprising given that approximately 103,000 Australian couples experience an early pregnancy loss each year.
The lack of employers’ policies could be due to the fact that under the Fair Work Act pregnant people are entitled to unpaid special maternity leave if they experience early pregnancy loss after 12 weeks. There is no set timeframe for this leave. It continues until the employee is fit to return to work, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Unfortunately, 98 per cent of pregnancy losses happen in the first 12 weeks. Pregnancy loss support network Pink Elephants advocates for employer to offer two days of bereavement leave to employees who suffer a miscarriage.
As mentioned above, Modibodi offers miscarriage leave as part of its wider women health leave options, and fintech company Zip Co offers two weeks’ paid leave for employees who suffer a pregnancy loss before 20 weeks. The Zip Co employee can take four weeks of leave if the loss happens after the 20-week mark.
5. Gender affirmation leave
When HRM spoke to Pride in Diversity director Dawn Hough last year, she spoke about how employees going through gender affirmation often exit the workforce for an extended period of time and return after they’ve finished the gender affirmation process.
These days, many organisations are offering leave specifically for these employees to not only support them through this important journey, but to ensure they’re retaining their skills and expertise.
Victoria’s Deakin University started offering 10 days’ paid ‘gender transition leave’ in 2018 and a number of employers have followed suit. Westpac offers four weeks’ leave that can be taken in one go or as needed.
It’s important this leave is offered to all gender diverse and trans employees and that it’s not limited to those who choose to undergo surgery. They could use this time for a number of things, including undergoing hormone therapy, coming out to friends and family or managing their mental health.
6. Sorry Business leave
Sorry Business is a First Nation custom acknowledging grief and loss. Sorry Business ceremonies can happen when a community is mourning the death of a loved one. They can also be held when a Native Title application is unsuccessful, if a community member is sick, or if someone is imprisoned.
According to First Nations-led not-for-profit Common Ground, some communities prohibit meetings and other events during Sorry Business. This means that employees not only need time away from work to attend ceremonies, but they may also need to scale back on certain duties that conflict with Sorry Business.
In 2018, Westpac introduced Sorry Business leave that entitles employees to three days leave to participate in cultural practices. KPMG recently introduced Indigenous and ceremonial leave for Indigenous employees that entitles them to one extra day of paid leave a year.
7. Marriage leave
Organising a wedding can be a very stressful event. Even employees who aren’t considering a honeymoon might take extra days off around the wedding to prepare themselves and mentally decompress afterwards. Because of this, some organisations offer specific marriage leave.
In France, employees get a minimum of four days of paid marriage leave. In Spain, employees get three weeks.
These types of leave let staff know that their important life events are also important to you.
“This creates a high level of employee engagement because employees feel heard and cared for,” says Grant.
8. Life leave
Life leave is probably one of the broader options on this list.
Introduced by Ernst & Young (EY) in 2019, life leave gives employees six to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to simply enjoy themselves. They can use this time to travel, relax or work part-time for a period of time.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), offers three days of paid life leave. Last year, CBA announced it would cut employee sick leave from 15 day to 12 and replace the three lost days with life leave – perhaps in an attempt to combat the ‘sickie’. CBA’s life leave can be taken for whatever reason, as long as employees have less than 20 days of annual leave left.
EY Oceania’s people partner Kate Hillman told Business Insider that life leave helps EY to retain staff who want to explore their passions outside of work. It also works as an attraction tool as well as retention.
“Flexible work policies like this are necessary because of increased competition for talent,” says Hillman.
9. Pawternity leave
Last year, between 2 March and 19 April, 12,534 pets were adopted in Australia, according to PetRescue. That’s over 300 animals a day. Usually, the site would only see half that number.
Australians love their pets. A 2019 survey by Animal Medicines Australia (AMA) found that 61 per cent of Australian households have a pet. This is higher than the US (57 per cent) and the UK (40 per cent).
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that some organisations are offering a type of parental leave for employees to care for a new pet – pawternity leave.
UK-owned brewery Brewdog (fitting name) offers its Brisbane staff one week of paid ‘pawternity leave’ for employees who have just adopted a pet. The move has been supported by the RSPCA which says the first week is crucial bonding time for re-homed animals.
According to the AMA survey, Gen Z are the largest group of pet owners. This means that organisations that want to attract younger talent could consider leave options like pawternity (or pawrental) leave to cater to the Gen Z lifestyle.
10. Flexible public holidays
This isn’t a type of leave as such, because employees will still work the same amount, but flexible public holidays are a great way to let employees celebrate the dates that matter to them.
The idea is simple – an employee works on a public holiday then trades that day for another that suits them. For example, an employee that doesn’t celebrate Easter might choose to work on Good Friday and take off Yom Kippur.
Spotify introduced this for its global workforce in 2018, and according to its website, it’s been really successful.
This could be a great way to acknowledge the many different religions and cultures in your workplace, but Grant is wary of its effectiveness.
“It’s hard enough when Australian states have different public holidays. I imagine this could be tricky in nationwide organisations,” says Grant. “There would have to be a lot of work to decide if something like this is feasible for your organisation.”
On the other hand, Grant is supportive of any flexible types of leave organisations are considering. Employees don’t just want flexibility, they’re demanding it, she says.
“If you want your employees to be engaged… [you need to create] ways of working that suit your employees.”
Leave policies that allow your employees to balance their work and life will lead to greater productivity and attract new talent, says Grant.
Attracting new employees to your company with progressive leave policies is the first step, but what should you do once you’ve got them in the interview chair? Take AHRI’s short course on effective interviewing and selection skills to gain helpful tips.