We recently hosted a conversation with professionals about what their workplaces could do to improve the employee experience, one line keeps coming up: Give us our leave days!

Wait, what? You’re not given leave days as per employment laws?

Whether you nurture your introvert on the couch, rediscover gardening and arts, or you are a travel junkie discovering new places, we all deserve that amazing feeling of rest, adventure and of low stress, pressure and external demands.

Yet, a large number of employees we spoke to experience negative feelings when thinking about their leave days:

“It took only two days this whole year”

“It always feels like I am begging when I ask my supervisor!”

“My leave was not approved (or first approved, then recalled)…”

Most Kenyan employers know that they are obliged to give a minimum of 21 leave days per annum within the legal frameworks (some neighbouring countries give more, so do some employers), yet in reality most employees feel fatigued in the second half of the year, and rack up many leave days at the end of the year.

We also heard from some employers that they find leave procedures frustrating and tedious: Employees don’t apply for leave until October, others hand in leave requests last minute, or staff come back from leave with even less energy.

In the knowledge economy, taking leave can feel like a double-edged sword

Without rest and recovery, you risk your biggest resource: Your ability to concentrate, be creative, strategize, have convincing conversations, draw insights and remember important things in the right situation.

On the other hand, when people go on leave, they take their networks, knowledge, insights and brain with them. We all have tales of projects that failed while the person who initiated them, was on the beach, receiving frantic calls while they should be off. Some firms are technically closed for business, if a senior employee is off.

So how can you strike a balance and build a culture where performance and restoration go hand in hand?

We advocate for regular and consistent conversations about wellness and personal effectiveness in the team.

  • For example you can strengthen people’s awareness about what helps them perform, what makes them more or less effective through self-reflection and peer circles.
  • Support the ideation and development of healthy and effectiveness habits of all types in your team, from the basics like breaks between meetings and lunch away from the laptop to home-office policies and fruit baskets.
  • If as a manager you are truly okay with someone going home an hour early because they’re tired, or prompt people to take a day off after a hectic period, you will be much more credible when you start discussing leave days (whether you end up approving or re-negotiating a leave request).

Things you can do now for a healthier and more effective 2019

  • Lead by example! Plan leave, organize yourself, and then: switch off until you experience the power of rest!
  • Don’t have someone in charge of leave management? Appoint someone! Even better: Make it a well-understood system that runs by its own and promotes people’s personal satisfaction and well-being.
  • Have employees hand in their leave requests now. Then use a well-understood system to distribute the precious weeks around mid-year between the employees: Some departments map out leave among them by consensus, others use a first come first serve policy, others reserve school holidays for parents.
  • Make sure everyone takes a real break latest at the half-year point. Make it a policy if you have to, but a meaningful conversation often does better, especially in small teams. Also discuss whether one week provides meaningful rest in your profession!
  • Talk through the responsibilities that come with taking leave. Have people prepare handover manuals and together set realistic timelines for handover procedures. This includes for example people listing , starting to hand over their work to their colleagues at least 3 days before going on leave, and briefing them at least 1 week prior.

The new year has just started, but you can never start planning for leave days in your team too early.

We want to hear your opinions and experiences!

What scares you when you think of your employees being away for long?

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