POSTED: May 09 2022
Is unlimited holiday really unlimited?

Is unlimited holiday really unlimited?

Four day working week trials are becoming increasingly popular, with trials in Iceland, Belgium, and now the UK. 

These shifts to a four-day working week are, in principle, challenging the rigid five-day week that has been widely accepted for decades. The main issue with these trials is that they focus on maintaining 100% productivity from employees with 20% less work time. This could lead to higher levels of stress during those four days, as employees fight to ensure tasks are completed.

Wilson Fletcher, a consultancy business, has operated a four-day week for the last three years. CEO Mark Wilson said “The key to this model is understanding why you are doing it. We don’t ask staff to do five days work in four, we’re not trying to compress the week. This in itself means staff do not feel stressed.”

According to Wilson, a successful four-day week is all down to management. He argues having each Friday off is giving back flexibility to staff, as they have more time to do “life stuff” on the additional day off.

For the 87% who want to work flexibly following the pandemic, this is a big step. However, for those working around school hours, or who have disabilities, mental health challenges or other long-term illnesses, and those with caring responsibilities – this approach is as inflexible as it is flexible. Many employees believe the four-day working week model is biased in favour of people with children, and research shows that hybrid working options tend to be favoured in this group.

Flexible working in the truest sense negates the need for flexible working requests or four day working week policies. A truly flexible approach is about removing barriers for those who need flexibility, and supporting them in securing a healthy work-life balance.

We already know that flex working can be life changing – it can let people into the workforce that would otherwise not be able. It’s argued as being a driver towards closing the gender pay gap, and a way that we can genuinely challenge inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. There are also well-documented significant business benefits. Research from CIPD tells us that when people work flexibly, they are more loyal to the company, report greater job satisfaction, and can generate more revenue (43%) because they are more engaged vs less engaged staff (20%). People with long-term health conditions and caring responsibilities have reduced absence, and can better manage these and work effectively. Flexible working is the number one motivator in the workplace (89%), more so than financial incentives (77%). Flexibility can also reduce staff turnover.

The pros
  • It can increase employee satisfaction.
  • It is more flexible, enabling employees to create a healthier work-life balance.
  • An open policy for managing employee holidays can also help companies stand out in the job market and attract higher quality talent.
  • Unlimited holidays can help employees create a sense of ownership and responsibility about the work they do, increasing productivity.
  • Flexible benefits such as unlimited employee holidays can boost employee morale and improve workplace culture.
  • Companies learn to trust their employees to act like stakeholders and be responsible for managing their own time and workloads.
The cons
  • By advertising holiday as a benefit rather than a right, it means employees are inclined to take less holiday than they normally would.
  • It can lead to problems with productivity. If little or no notice of a holiday is given, then it can lead to staffing issues.
  • Unlimited holidays wouldn’t work for companies where employees are required to be on-site, such as manufacturing, production or service industries.
  • If a company allows unlimited holidays, then they probably aren’t tracking attendance data and performance. This could lead to red flags going unnoticed for any potential problem areas within the company.
  • It can be difficult to implement and even harder to manage. It also makes it difficult to ensure all legal requirements are met in terms of statutory leave entitlement.

It’s important to recognise and celebrate that it has never been a more exciting time for flexible working. Companies have seen what can be gained from flexible working, and are ripping up and rewriting their flexibility rulebooks. Recognising that we can work differently and be more productive is great, but it’s important to consider that flexible working looks different for everyone. This means that a four-day working week will be brilliant for some, but not for others.

If you are thinking about implementing a four-day working week or compressed hours working, there are a number of considerations in terms of fairness and compliance with employment legislation and correct holiday allocation to be addressed. To ensure that any such implementation is successful, please contact the HR team at advo.