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Flexible working blog
Charlotte Bates | 27 June 2023

Flexible working and taking leave

We can work from home or anywhere, but should we?

Flexible working has become the norm for countless employers and is a non-negotiable for some employees. While greater flexibility can enhance productivity, job satisfaction, and work-life integration, there are some downsides which need to be well managed – these can include isolation, reduced collaboration and connection, blurred boundaries and lack of work-life balance.

Another downside is that because people can work from anywhere and at any time, they work when they are sick and some employees are not taking regular annual leave as they can fit their work around personal commitments and events. Taking time off work to recover from illness or injury and taking annual leave is important for employees’ well-being and the overall productivity of your organisation. In this article, we explore strategies for you to maintain flexibility while ensuring people are taking appropriate leave for their wellness.

  1. Establish Clear Expectations and Guidelines:

    To promote a healthy work environment, employers should establish clear guidelines and expectations regarding flexible work arrangements. If you don’t have a flexible working policy, consider creating one with your employees - start by talking to your people about what flexibility means to them and what will work for your organisation.

    Communicate your organisation’s position (and policies if you have them) on sick leave and annual leave, including the expectation that the leave is there to be taken. Clarity and transparency will help employees understand their responsibilities and encourage responsible behavior when balancing work, sickness and personal obligations. Ensure that your employees are aware of your leave policies, including any expectations around minimum amount of annual leave required to be taken per year.

  2. Lead by example: Employers should lead by example by demonstrating a healthy work-life balance themselves. Encourage leaders to prioritise their well-being and model responsible behavior i.e., not working when sick! If your leaders frequently work while sick, people will think that they need to do this as well. When leaders take time off when needed or openly communicate about their personal commitments, it sets a positive tone and encourages employees to do the same without fear of stigma or negative repercussions.

  3. Encourage Open Communication:
    Create a culture that encourages open and honest communication between employees and their leaders. Establish channels for employees to express their needs, concerns, and challenges regarding flexible work arrangements. By fostering a supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere, employees will feel more comfortable discussing their situations, including illness or personal commitments.

    Encourage employees to plan their annual leave well in advance. This is particularly important for employees with high annual leave balances - you may need to be more proactive with these employees to get them to book in some leave (if you can’t agree on when annual leave is to be taken, employers can make employees take entitled annual holidays if they give the employee at least 14 days' notice).

  4. Foster a supportive culture: Create a workplace culture that values work-life balance and emphasises the importance of taking time off. Encourage team members to support one another in taking annual leave and avoid overworking.

  5. Provide coverage and resources:
    Make sure there are systems in place to handle workloads while employees are on leave. Cross-train team members to ensure adequate coverage and provide resources, such as guidelines or documentation, for colleagues to refer to in the absence of others. This approach allows employees to feel more confident when requesting time off, knowing that their absence will not significantly disrupt operations, and that their work will be covered and they won’t return to an overflowing inbox!

There is no one size fits all - you need to think about what will work in your organisation for your people. Being deliberate and clear about what you want to achieve with flexible working, acknowledging the positives for your organisation and your people and mitigating the challenges that might come with increased flexibility, will ensure that what you develop will hit the mark. We can help with refining or shifting your flexible working practices to ensure mutual value and alignment with your organisational goals and your employee experience.

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