Do you really want to upset a pilot? Ryanair is notorious for being cheap, a courtesy they have now extended to their staff by slashing scheduled holidays.
There can be few things designed to upset an employee more than an employer messing with their holidays. Yet that is exactly what Ryanair, the budget Irish airline, decided to do after it confessed to a “mess up” in its scheduling of time off for its 4,200 pilots.
After announcing plans to cancel up to 50 flights a day through to the end of October, the company offered a “cash bonus” to pilots willing to forego their leave. Adding insult to injury, the deal appeared to be flawed as many pilots needed to have 800 hours of flying time in one year to qualify, which none of them had. The pilots’ reaction was to “work to rule”, which means not going beyond the strict terms of their contracts, by working days off, arriving for shifts early or even answering the company calls when they are not at work.
Ryanair’s next move was to threaten its staff. Never a good idea. Chief executive, Michael O’Leary said the pilots didn’t have a “difficult job” and he could force them back to work if necessary. Many of the airline’s pilots work as agency contractors and are not unionised, so in theory they could be sacked. In practice, that looks unlikely given there is already a shortage of qualified pilots on the market.
But let’s scroll back a moment to the holiday stuff up. It should go without saying that HR professionals really need to ensure that their organisation has an annual leave policy and that it sticks to it. That holidays should be calculated accurately and that if leave is going to be turned down for any reason (such as it coinciding with a particularly busy time for the business), then HR should be able to explain the reasons.
Ben Thompson, CEO at cloud-based HR firm Employment Hero, says that many companies neglect accurate documentation around leave approval policies. “Without effective HR management around issues such as holiday entitlements, businesses risk losing valuable employees or breaching compliance requirements,” says Thompson. Naturally, he advocates a digital platform to capture that information.
“Having a system in place that easily calculates an employee’s leave balance is vital so basic administration mistakes don’t happen. Importantly, it should be easy for employees to access their leave balance so there is no future confusion,” he says.
Ashleigh Pinto, HR consultant at RSM HR Consulting told People Management in the UK that “HR should plan ahead with ‘check points’ throughout the year to ensure employees use all their entitlement, regulate their holiday, avoid causing shortages in busy periods, and have a clear communication strategy well in advance to mitigate future risks when making any changes.”
Holidays and high performance
But this isn’t simply about compliance. Who wants to fly in a plane piloted by someone who is over-tired and disgruntled? No matter how much of a bargain it may seem to fly around Europe on Ryanair, some things are sold too cheap. HRM has written before on the link between holidays and performance. When a business ensures their staff take their holiday entitlements so that they are well rested, then they see benefits in enhanced performance.
In a recent survey conducted by recruitment specialists, Hays, they found that over half of all respondents did not take their full annual leave entitlements. Yet one in three said their productivity is affected by not taking all their leave. Over two thirds also said productivity is compromised when they can not take leave when needed, but over half said there are restrictions on when annual leave can be taken.
“There are times, such as peak workloads and end of month or end of year requirements, when annual leave may not be available and full breaks may not be taken,” said Jacky Carter, director at Hays.
“However generally speaking, taking regular annual leave can lead to not just higher productivity, but decreased stress and absenteeism. Breaks help to create a productive, healthy and safe working environment,” says Carter.
Someone ought to try explaining that to Michael O’Leary at Ryanair.