UAE companies offering unlimited annual leave – but is it a good idea?

Grant Thornton, the sixth-largest US accounting firm, offers its employees unlimited time-off in a ploy to entice workers from rivals.

According to the firm, the new annual leaves policy, in place since November last year, replaces the holiday time, capped at 30 days per year for the most senior staff, for its 6,700 employees.

Less than 1 per cent of US companies currently offer unlimited holidays, according to 2015 data from the Society of Human Resource Management. However, some large organisations, such as Netflix, Virgin Group and General Electric have all made the switch for some employees in recent years.

The ratio of UAE companies offering unlimited annual leave is unknown, but they do exist. The initiative works well for Jihane Guettar, general manager of property website, luxsqft, whose company doesn’t have restrictions on holidays. “We have our 25 paid working days of holiday a year. On top of that we’re able to take more leave, which is unpaid. As long as we do our job and meet the deadlines, management is flexible with the leave,” she says.

Ms Guettar takes advantage of the flexibility, taking some Sundays off to enjoy long weekends, but she says she always ensures she delivers everything required of her during the four days left of those weeks.

“I’m the kind of person who would work 12-15 hours straight to finish a project or meet a deadline as well as weekends if needed,” she says. “I believe it goes both ways, both parties give and take and that’s where the balance and mutual appreciation comes from.”

Ms Guettar insists, rather than reduce her performance, she actually delivers more prolific work thanks to the flexible system. “I believe I work more effectively, such as when I recently went on a last minute trip to Bali. I was gone for 10 days at the same time I needed to meet some strict deadlines. My resort was on a cliff overlooking the ocean with a beautiful infinity pool. Working from that spot was much more productive and inspiring than sitting behind a desk. Needless to say I got a lot more done and in a very efficient way.”

Some believe offering unlimited holidays may even work in favour of the employer, such as Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute. “Employees with a fixed number of vacation days are more likely to take them,” he says. “When there’s no limit, there isn’t the same push to take the days, which results in some employees taking less time off.”

Heena Bulchandani, a Dubai-based HR professional with over 15 years experience, says employers should provide a fixed number of holidays, and it should differ depending upon the position of the employee in the organisation. 

“It helps organisations offer more structure and improves the work-life balance for employees,” she says. “If companies have unlimited time off, there are more chances of employees misusing this benefit which, in the long run, could adversely effect organisational productivity, company image and customer satisfaction.”

Ms Bulchandani also believes, rather than flexible holidays, companies should focus more on options such as job-sharing, part-time roles, working from home and flexible hours, to embrace work-life balance thereby boosting employee morale and enhancing employee happiness.  

“Companies can devise innovative ideas to achieve employee happiness, but it should not compromise on achieving the company’s business objectives of productivity and profitability,” she adds.

Ms Guettar disagrees, recalling a previous employer with a strict leave policy that once rejected an important leave request

“It was a family wedding,” she says. “Needless to say I wasn’t productive over this period. The situation made me careless about my job and in the end my boss lost those days of work, as I decided to take some sick days.

“In contrast, I was going through a difficult personal situation last summer and wasn’t feeling at my best. My boss not only suggested I take some time off and go away, he even paid most of my trip as he felt I needed it to recharge. With that simple gesture, he gained more respect from me and my dedication to the company and I’ll ensure to perform my best in future, because I know they are looking after me.”

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