The promise of unlimited leave from your job seems at the surface level the ultimate example of flexible employment and work-life balance, but things are sometimes more complicated than this.
Professor Jarrod Haar, the Associate Dean at Massey Business School, tells The Front Page podcast that international case studies have shown some mixed results among companies trialling this type of policy.
“The data tells us, quite ironically, that in workforces that do this, they do not take super long leave,” says Haar.
“What tends to happen is that they just operate pretty much normally, just taking the leave they would normally take.”
Sometimes employees even take less leave than they normally would have because they worry about how it might look.
Haar adds that managers can have a direct impact on the amount of leave staff feel they should take. If, for instance, you have a workaholic boss who hardly ever takes any leave, staff around that person might be afraid of being perceived as lazy.
“Modelling behaviour of managers is incredibly important,” says Haar.
“It’s important to remind managers or leaders that if they’re going to have these kinds of policies, they need to model them as much as possible. It might be as simple as taking some time off because you set a good standard for your workers.”
There have been several companies in Aotearoa that have adopted unlimited leave as a policy. The latest example came out of Dunedin, where retailer Hobby Lords decided to make the bold call to offer all staff unlimited leave.
Legal software firm Actionstep also decided to make the policy permanent this year after running a trial in 2022.
Haar says that the success of any of these experiments always comes down to the level of trust between the employer and the employee.
“It’s all about trust – and trust gets built on things like equity and fairness,” says Haar, explaining that it’s about showing staff you’re willing to be flexible in your approach.
Get this balance right, and a company can attract talent at the recruitment stage while also holding on to those within the business.
“There’s still a shortage of skilled workers,” says Haar, pointing out that companies need to offer prospective employees a point of difference to attract the best talent for their business.
While Haar is pleased to see some innovative steps being taken in the evolution of flexible working, he warns that employees need to make sure they know exactly what they’re signing up for.
So what questions should employees be asking prospective employers? What other flexible work policies are making a difference? And is the whole concept of flexible work simply another fad?
Listen to The Front Page for a full rundown on our changing workplace from Professor Haar.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am. It is presented by Damien Venuto, an Auckland-based journalist with a background in business reporting who joined the Herald in 2017.