Workplace doctor: Adopt united front for fair leave policy

I work for an SME and my boss has a very restrictive leave policy. There are only 10 of us in the company and he insists that only one of us can be off at any one time. With four weeks each off a year, it means we are all fighting to get the same time off and invariably end up taking time out when we don’t want to. How can we tackle this issue? II, Sharjah

As I unpack my suitcase following a fun-filled and action-packed holiday to the United States, the benefits of annual leave are certainly very fresh and relevant in my mind. A holiday is more than just days out of the office, it’s the planning, preparation, build-up and excitement as you turn on that email autoresponder, grab the suntan lotion and head off into the sunset. This is what makes it all worthwhile. We need to learn how to work to live, not live to work, and surely hard work should be rewarded with a well-earned break, at a time of your own choice, and not when suits your employer. Personal lives don’t always work to a schedule, or a rota, and a fair employer should recognise this. Placing restrictions on this would leave most of us feeling almost imprisoned.

However, working for an SME must make the human capital restraints more significant and I can see that from your boss’s point of view this policy allows him to maintain his business and not lose too many people at certain times of the year. He probably feels that if he allowed more than one person off at a time, it would have a significant impact on his workforce and affect performance.

What has really hit me is that surely fighting for the same leave cannot have a positive impact on the atmosphere and vibe in the office. For example, everyone will be pushing and pulling to get two weeks off during the August summer holidays, to escape the heat and spend some much-needed time with the family. If only one person gets this golden ticket, how do the other nine feel and what is the impact on mood and morale back in the office? I am imagining “employee A” floating back into the office at the end of August, all smiling, tanned and looking refreshed and rejuvenated with his colleagues busy typing away at their desks feeling resentful and frustrated, counting the days until their release.

Essentially, what I am saying is it is not going to help the cause if you all are fighting for the same leave and others are forced to take a break at times of year that they do not want. You should come together as a united team to propose a positive solution that your boss could work with. One idea that could help you is if people buddied up with another person who would support them with their workload when they are away, making sure work is completed, clients are responded to and consistency is maintained. If you all agreed to take some extra work on while someone else is away then it could mean that your boss eases up the policy and there is more flexibility within the leave system. It may be something that you propose to your boss to manage his initial anxiety.

I know how important holidays are; it recharges our batteries and remotivates us for the challenges ahead. I know how I feel coming back from my holidays. There is so much I want to achieve and having some time to relax has given me new perspective and a fresh outlook.

Doctor’s prescription:

Leave is certainly a hot topic and from an employee’s perspective there is nothing worse that feeling trapped and having to take leave when you don’t want to and missing out on the all-important holiday periods. Equally, the office environment will not be a positive one if everyone is fighting to get the same time off. I suggest uniting to propose a fair solution to your boss; this is much healthier than pushing and pulling the team apart over an issue that is clearly important to you all. After all, a happy workforce is a motivated workforce.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School, based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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