Trust holidays – a different way of looking at leave

Gone fishing. 'Trust holidays' imply longer, more flexible periods of leave from work and more time for pleasure. (Photograph: Penny Haw.)

IMAGINE a job with limitless holidays, where you can take as much leave as you like, when you like. American and British companies – mostly accountancy, law and advertising organisations – are offering just that with a new concept called ‘trust holidays’.

The system works as follows: Managers allow employees to decide among themselves how much time they want off and when. The stipulations are that all agree on the holiday schedule and that, between them, colleagues get their jobs done. Individual performance is assessed at the end of the year to ensure that everyone is performing to standard.

According to a report by David Bamber in The Telegraph, executives in the US – where employees seldom get more than two weeks leave per annum – are now taking up to six month’s paid leave after, for example, completing deals that require them to work without a break for eight months or more.

Supporters of the concept say that it works best in small, tightly knit groups of colleagues where every person is capable of standing in for someone while they take a holiday. The idea is that you will be happy to cover for your colleague in the knowledge that he or she will do the same for you when you decide to take time out.

Trust holidays benefit individuals who want to achieve better work-life balance and those who require greater variety in their lives. The concept is said to empower individuals and promote an increased sense of trust and responsibility between employer and employee. It does not, say its backers, have a negative impact on productivity provided employees ensure that customers do not experience any decline or inconsistency in service, value or supply.

Companies that offer trust holidays say that what matters is the amount and quality of work done while people are in the office – not the amount of time spent sitting behind a desk and by whom.

The trust holiday is not yet a phenomenon formally seen in South Africa, though many might give it their vote.

“I can only imagine that the scheme could work in small, firmly managed organisations, particularly those that are owner managed and operated,” said Anton Engelbrecht, divisional head for Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions. “However, if it were successfully introduced, the increased flexibility would be a huge plus for many. It would, for example, be very helpful for parents who want to schedule leave around special occasions involving their families, for people who are setting up new homes, furthering their studies, or for those who enjoy lengthy periods of travel. And, of course, there are those situations when an extended break from work is beneficial to one’s health and well-being.”

Experts agree that whatever form holidays take, it is important to schedule regular breaks from work if you are serious about your career and productivity. Progressive exhaustion is believed to occur in people who do not take holidays for one to three years. It is foolish, they say, to wait for depression and fatigue to set in before taking a vacation.

“On the other hand, from an organisational point of view, the concept of trust holidays is surely a difficult one. Companies would need to develop highly effective systems to monitor and measure performance versus leave taken.The situation would require very careful management. Then there is the potential problem of staff not having the courage to refuse a holiday request from a colleague,” continued Engelbrecht.

There is, he believes, a general sense of entitlement among South Africans when it comes to absenteeism from work, for both paid and sick leave: “Naturally, employees are entitled to 30 days of paid leave per year and in fact, new practices compel organisations to ensure that these days are taken as leave or they are accrued as expenses to the company.”

The challenge for many organisations, however, is the widespread attitude among employees that they are at liberty to utilise sick leave allowances – 36 days per three-year cycle for someone working a six-day week and 30 days per three-year cycle for those working a five-day week – as discretionary absenteeism. This irresponsible or uninformed perception, suggested Engelbrecht, indicates that we might not be a nation widely ready for the successful implementation of the trust holiday system.

While that might be disappointing news, psychotherapist Steven Shapiro reminds us that: “People who wait too long before taking a break find that they cannot leave their troubles at work and will not enjoy being anywhere else. To avoid this, it is ideal schedule two or three major vacations at regular intervals during the year and break up the four- to six-month intervals with a few long weekends.”

So, trust aside, it is always a good idea to start planning your next holiday.

Make your holidays work for you:

• Schedule your break before fatigue and depression set in.
• Vary your holiday destinations and activities to avoid boredom.
• Schedule time to adjust from the fast track before going away.
• Intersperse lengthy periods of work with long weekends away.
• Give yourself a minimum of a one-day buffer before going back to work when you have been away from home on holiday.

(First published in Business Day.)

About Administrator

Author and freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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