It’s time to rethink how we distribute public holiday leave


Not everyone celebrates Easter or wants a day off work for the Queen’s Birthday. How can organisations provide better leave options for public holidays?

Earlier this month, you may have seen some of your colleagues celebrating Diwali – the festival of lights. Diwali is recognised across several religions, including Hindu, Jainism, Sikh and Newar Buddhism. 

Although these are some of the most prominent non-Christian religions in Australia, Diwali isn’t a public holiday. So when Diwali falls midweek – as it did this year – what are the hundreds of thousands of Australian employees who celebrate the holiday to do? 

This is not an issue singular to those who celebrate Diwali. Many of Australia’s public holidays are built around Christian events, but Christianity is no longer Australia’s predominant religious identity. 

Only 44 per cent of Australians identified as Christian in 2020, according to insights organisation Roy Morgan, a drop from the 52 per cent recorded in the 2016 census. This means people who have a religion other than Christianity, or don’t identify as religious, now make up most of the population.

Over the last few years there has been a noticeable shift in how employers approach leave. Organisations that implement progressive leave policies, especially around parental leave, have done so because they recognise that flexibility and inclusivity go hand in hand.

It makes sense then that cultural holidays, and how employers can accommodate the employees who recognise them, is the next step in improving inclusion initiatives. 

So how do you do that when there are 176 religious events in 2021 alone?

As part of a suite of inclusivity initiatives, earlier this year KPMG introduced ‘floating public holidays’ on top of its regular annual leave offerings.

HRM asked Salli Hood, Director People and Inclusion at KPMG Australia, how floating public holidays improved cultural and religious inclusion.

Floating public holidays

The idea behind floating public holidays is simple – employees can swap out a public holiday that doesn’t matter to them for one that does. For example, an employee who doesn’t recognise Easter could swap it for Lunar New Year.

At KPMG, floating public holidays cover national, state and territory holidays, and the process is simple. An employee approaches their manager to explain the days they want to switch. The change is then recorded on the employee’s timesheet so they can be paid correctly.

KPMG’s infrastructure teams – which includes finance and payroll – worked closely with the people and culture team to make accessing floating public holidays a smooth process. 

“It’s really conversational and it encourages managers to become educated about the cultural celebrations that their people have,” says Hood. 

“It allows them to recognise and celebrate religious or significant cultural events that are relevant to their cultural background, heritage or religious beliefs.”

Currently, the initiative is focused on recognising cultural holidays, so an employee can’t swap a public holiday for their birthday, for example. But as KPMG only introduced floating public holidays in July this year, it’s possible the program could be expanded down the line.

Other organisations that have introduced similar policies, such as Spotify, encourage employees to use the time for any date that is important to them, including awareness days such as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

Making it work

KPMG still has a Christmas/New Year shutdown period, but other than that all holidays in an employee’s state or territory can be swapped. 

“The date of cultural holidays doesn’t tend to change, so it’s quite easy for the business to plan around an employee’s absence,” says Hood.

“We recently had quite a few people celebrate Diwali, but we haven’t run into any resourcing problems covering them.”

“It allows them to recognise and celebrate religious or significant cultural events that are relevant to their cultural background, heritage or religious beliefs.” Salli Hood, KPMG Australia.

While the push for floating public holidays came from both employee groups and the leadership team, top-down support for the initiative has been very important, says Hood.

“Leadership support is absolutely critical. Having [KPMG Australia’s CEO] Andrew Yates announce the initiative and explain why it was important showed employees that it had the support from the top,” she says. 

This is only one step KPMG is taking to recognise its culturally diverse workforce, but it is an important one that acknowledges Australia’s shifting cultural landscape. So far, the policy has received positive feedback from employees, says Hood.

Five tips for implementing a floating leave policy

Thinking that you’d like to implement a similar policy in your workplace? Keep these things in mind.

  1. Choosing the public holidays – Public holidays differ by state. For example, in 2022 NSW has 13 public holidays, while the ACT has 15. If your organisation spans the entire country , you could start by only offering the seven national public holidays as floating leave.
  2. Pair floating holidays with annual leave offerings – Not all cultural events are limited to a single day. Some religions might have more events than public holidays. For example, there can be up to 13 Jewish holidays each year. Make sure employees know that they can use their annual leave or time off in lieu to make up the difference.
  3. Be flexible in your approach – Employees might not always need an entire day off to observe their religious or cultural event. As Amber Hacker, Vice President of Operations and Finance at Chicago’s Interfaith Youth Centre, writes in the Harvard Business Review, “During Ramadan… many of my Muslim colleagues will start the workday early and then end early to adjust for energy levels while fasting.”
  4. Go beyond religion – Non-religious employees should be able to utilise this policy, too. Use terms like ‘floating public holidays’ rather than ‘religious holidays’ to remind them that they’re included.
  5. Make it a conversation – No leader can be expected to know every important event to every employee, but leaders and HR should be open to being educated. If you want to know more about cultural events or religious holidays, ask the question. Also, try not to make assumptions about why an employee is (or isn’t) observing a particular holiday; religion can be a very personal experience.

Cultural diversity helps organisations thrive. Data from McKinsey & Co shows that organisations with ethnic and cultural diversity recorded 36 per cent high profitability compared with their less-diverse counterparts. So it’s high time we made sure every culture and religion is recognised and valued in our workplaces in order to attract and retain this valuable talent.


Find out which organisations are ahead of the pack when it comes to diversity and inclusion by attending AHRI’s Awards Celebration 2021, Thursday 25 November.


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Greg
Greg
19 days ago

At 44%, according to the definition of predominant “present as the strongest or main element”, Christianity is still the predominant religious identity in Australia. The “176 religious holidays” are not all holidays, they are significant days for those religions and more than half of them are identified as some form of Christian faith. It is important to be inclusive of people from diverse backgrounds, and after years of trying to suppress religious discuss in workplaces it looks like that might be starting to open up.

Kaz
Kaz
18 days ago

Unfortunately it’s not an even playing field for all organisations in this space. The big corporates can do this without the need to comply with an award. They also boast about allowing employees to chose their working hours. Whilst those smaller organisations such as ‘not for profits’ commonly covered by the Schads award for example can’t compete as the award does not permit swapping a public holiday or employees picking their work hours without a penalty to the employer. Entering into an IFA with an employee for these purposes is just not practicable. A change to the award landscape is… Read more »

More on HRM

It’s time to rethink how we distribute public holiday leave


Not everyone celebrates Easter or wants a day off work for the Queen’s Birthday. How can organisations provide better leave options for public holidays?

Earlier this month, you may have seen some of your colleagues celebrating Diwali – the festival of lights. Diwali is recognised across several religions, including Hindu, Jainism, Sikh and Newar Buddhism. 

Although these are some of the most prominent non-Christian religions in Australia, Diwali isn’t a public holiday. So when Diwali falls midweek – as it did this year – what are the hundreds of thousands of Australian employees who celebrate the holiday to do? 

This is not an issue singular to those who celebrate Diwali. Many of Australia’s public holidays are built around Christian events, but Christianity is no longer Australia’s predominant religious identity. 

Only 44 per cent of Australians identified as Christian in 2020, according to insights organisation Roy Morgan, a drop from the 52 per cent recorded in the 2016 census. This means people who have a religion other than Christianity, or don’t identify as religious, now make up most of the population.

Over the last few years there has been a noticeable shift in how employers approach leave. Organisations that implement progressive leave policies, especially around parental leave, have done so because they recognise that flexibility and inclusivity go hand in hand.

It makes sense then that cultural holidays, and how employers can accommodate the employees who recognise them, is the next step in improving inclusion initiatives. 

So how do you do that when there are 176 religious events in 2021 alone?

As part of a suite of inclusivity initiatives, earlier this year KPMG introduced ‘floating public holidays’ on top of its regular annual leave offerings.

HRM asked Salli Hood, Director People and Inclusion at KPMG Australia, how floating public holidays improved cultural and religious inclusion.

Floating public holidays

The idea behind floating public holidays is simple – employees can swap out a public holiday that doesn’t matter to them for one that does. For example, an employee who doesn’t recognise Easter could swap it for Lunar New Year.

At KPMG, floating public holidays cover national, state and territory holidays, and the process is simple. An employee approaches their manager to explain the days they want to switch. The change is then recorded on the employee’s timesheet so they can be paid correctly.

KPMG’s infrastructure teams – which includes finance and payroll – worked closely with the people and culture team to make accessing floating public holidays a smooth process. 

“It’s really conversational and it encourages managers to become educated about the cultural celebrations that their people have,” says Hood. 

“It allows them to recognise and celebrate religious or significant cultural events that are relevant to their cultural background, heritage or religious beliefs.”

Currently, the initiative is focused on recognising cultural holidays, so an employee can’t swap a public holiday for their birthday, for example. But as KPMG only introduced floating public holidays in July this year, it’s possible the program could be expanded down the line.

Other organisations that have introduced similar policies, such as Spotify, encourage employees to use the time for any date that is important to them, including awareness days such as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

Making it work

KPMG still has a Christmas/New Year shutdown period, but other than that all holidays in an employee’s state or territory can be swapped. 

“The date of cultural holidays doesn’t tend to change, so it’s quite easy for the business to plan around an employee’s absence,” says Hood.

“We recently had quite a few people celebrate Diwali, but we haven’t run into any resourcing problems covering them.”

“It allows them to recognise and celebrate religious or significant cultural events that are relevant to their cultural background, heritage or religious beliefs.” Salli Hood, KPMG Australia.

While the push for floating public holidays came from both employee groups and the leadership team, top-down support for the initiative has been very important, says Hood.

“Leadership support is absolutely critical. Having [KPMG Australia’s CEO] Andrew Yates announce the initiative and explain why it was important showed employees that it had the support from the top,” she says. 

This is only one step KPMG is taking to recognise its culturally diverse workforce, but it is an important one that acknowledges Australia’s shifting cultural landscape. So far, the policy has received positive feedback from employees, says Hood.

Five tips for implementing a floating leave policy

Thinking that you’d like to implement a similar policy in your workplace? Keep these things in mind.

  1. Choosing the public holidays – Public holidays differ by state. For example, in 2022 NSW has 13 public holidays, while the ACT has 15. If your organisation spans the entire country , you could start by only offering the seven national public holidays as floating leave.
  2. Pair floating holidays with annual leave offerings – Not all cultural events are limited to a single day. Some religions might have more events than public holidays. For example, there can be up to 13 Jewish holidays each year. Make sure employees know that they can use their annual leave or time off in lieu to make up the difference.
  3. Be flexible in your approach – Employees might not always need an entire day off to observe their religious or cultural event. As Amber Hacker, Vice President of Operations and Finance at Chicago’s Interfaith Youth Centre, writes in the Harvard Business Review, “During Ramadan… many of my Muslim colleagues will start the workday early and then end early to adjust for energy levels while fasting.”
  4. Go beyond religion – Non-religious employees should be able to utilise this policy, too. Use terms like ‘floating public holidays’ rather than ‘religious holidays’ to remind them that they’re included.
  5. Make it a conversation – No leader can be expected to know every important event to every employee, but leaders and HR should be open to being educated. If you want to know more about cultural events or religious holidays, ask the question. Also, try not to make assumptions about why an employee is (or isn’t) observing a particular holiday; religion can be a very personal experience.

Cultural diversity helps organisations thrive. Data from McKinsey & Co shows that organisations with ethnic and cultural diversity recorded 36 per cent high profitability compared with their less-diverse counterparts. So it’s high time we made sure every culture and religion is recognised and valued in our workplaces in order to attract and retain this valuable talent.


Find out which organisations are ahead of the pack when it comes to diversity and inclusion by attending AHRI’s Awards Celebration 2021, Thursday 25 November.


guest
2 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Greg
Greg
19 days ago

At 44%, according to the definition of predominant “present as the strongest or main element”, Christianity is still the predominant religious identity in Australia. The “176 religious holidays” are not all holidays, they are significant days for those religions and more than half of them are identified as some form of Christian faith. It is important to be inclusive of people from diverse backgrounds, and after years of trying to suppress religious discuss in workplaces it looks like that might be starting to open up.

Kaz
Kaz
18 days ago

Unfortunately it’s not an even playing field for all organisations in this space. The big corporates can do this without the need to comply with an award. They also boast about allowing employees to chose their working hours. Whilst those smaller organisations such as ‘not for profits’ commonly covered by the Schads award for example can’t compete as the award does not permit swapping a public holiday or employees picking their work hours without a penalty to the employer. Entering into an IFA with an employee for these purposes is just not practicable. A change to the award landscape is… Read more »

More on HRM