If you’ve made it through this year even up against the many challenges COVID disruption has presented, now’s the time to start thinking ahead.
Your business could be ramping up as restrictions ease across Victoria and Australia.
Or you could be in a holding pattern to prepare for the upswing next year.
In either case, the best way to speed up is to slow down – which means giving your team (and yourself) a break.
This year has shaken many of us – both personally and professionally – to our core, upending many of our entrenched practices at work and in our personal lives. Some have embraced the challenges, while others may be suffering from burnout behind a brave face. As you continue to balance business operations with external forces, consider how you’re going to offer your team a reprieve from the chaos of 2020 and emerge united and refreshed for 2021.
End-of-year leave may seem stock standard, but there are a few things you need to look out for this year that you may not have faced before.
To help you revive the wellbeing of your team, we asked Pam MacDonald from BroadSpring Consulting to share her tips for formulating an end-of-year leave plan.
Pam is a renowned HR expert who specialises in advising small to medium businesses on employment issues.
1. Start the Conversation
Don’t wait for your team members to approach you about their leave arrangements. Now is the time to be proactive and demonstrate leadership.
Even if you don’t have the answers, it is your responsibility to discuss the process, policies and any changes that may affect your team. Start by having a group session that lays everything on the table and then follow up with individual sessions to hear your team’s plans and concerns.
Speak first, then listen.
Pam: This is a great opportunity to show your team that you care about them. Taking a break from work (and the screens that have invaded our homes), along with having some well-earned downtime, is really important.
2. Prioritise Your Policies
Don’t have any HR-related policies for your business?
This is common for small businesses, so don’t be overly concerned but now is the perfect opportunity to document your leave and related policies to get your team on the same page.
Write your policies based on a ‘normal’ year, not on the current business environment. Flexibility may be required as you navigate the pandemic, but it’s important to be precise and clear with your policies. Doing so will clear up ambiguity, allowing you to continue having open and honest conversations with your team.
Pam: Now more than ever, it’s important for your people to know the process for applying for leave – again it’s about communication and for you striking the balance between keeping the business wheels turning and allowing people to rest and recharge with leave. It is also important to make sure you are aware of any provisions within the relevant Award or Enterprise Agreement.
3. Set Clear Expectations
Given travel restrictions and fears over job security, it’s likely some of your staff will be reluctant to take leave.
Others may request to ‘bank’ leave to use when travel restrictions are lifted.
While these concerns are valid, you will need your best people available for when business picks up. You can’t guarantee when travel restrictions will be lifted, but you can guarantee your team a break to recharge before heading into 2021.
Set clear expectations with your team regarding leave arrangements and reassure them when they voice any anxieties. Burnout isn’t always obvious and can creep in at any time. If your team are eager to continue charging ahead, remind them of the bigger picture. And if you are met with resistance from those wanting to save their leave for a ‘sunny day’, consider bonus leave incentives that will get your team to see the benefits of taking a break.
Pam – Many businesses have an annual shut down in a non-peak period – often over Christmas – and that can be a way of ensuring at least some leave is taken. This can also come back to your leave policy where a recommended maximum accrual of annual leave can be communicated. In addition to the human/stress cost of “banking leave”, employees with high annual leave balances create a financial risk to your business because that leave liability adds up quickly. Once again though, this is a great opportunity for a conversation and to lead by example.
4. Be a Flexible Business Leader
Given the restrictions we’ve faced this year, it may be that your employees have used up most (if not all) of their leave balance.
Unfortunately, for many this leave wasn’t spent on a break from work or a holiday and maybe added to their stress levels instead of reducing them.
Whether they stayed at home, cared for a loved one or suffered the virus themselves, your employees will be seeking some flexibility on your part.
As a leader, you need to anticipate this. Your staff may be too afraid to ask if they can go into negative leave territory. If you are proactive and offer the flexibility up front, your team will embrace the opportunity to recharge and be alleviated of any concerns. Again, you can draw on bonus days or other mechanisms to keep people motivated.
Pam: There are a couple of key points to note here. Be very cautious about enabling your employees to go into a negative leave balance (i.e. allowing paid leave when they have exhausted their accrual). It’s a risk for you and them. For your employees, it means they’ll always be “playing catch up” and for you, it risks them resigning while owing you something you can never get back. Many companies offer a time in lieu policy where employees “accrue” time to be taken instead of it all being over-time (check your award for what is allowable) or for team performance. Think about time in lieu as a reward, instead of a financial bonus.
5. Lead from the Front
Now that you’ve talked the talk, it’s time to walk the walk. It may be tempting to want to ‘hold the fort’ while your team enjoys a break but setting yourself up as the hero will only inflame any anxieties about taking extra leave.
Your staff are loyal to you, so they will worry and want to help if they know you are still at the helm.
This break is just as much for you as it is for them. Taking a break benefits your team and the entire business, so join them in taking leave so you can return refreshed.
Pam: Great advice Craig! It’s absolutely vital that we small business owners lead from the front – take leave and show that you trust your team. Or take leave and encourage everyone else to do the same. In some cases, think about whether the people who have zero or low leave balances might be able to operate as a skeleton staff while you and others take a well-earned break. That may not always be the case, and your ultimate objective is to make sure your business and your people are going to be ok.
6. It’s Talent Time
For many businesses, this year has not been a year of opportunity for growth or to hire new people. Most have been clinging on to what they have, while lockdown restrictions have amplified feelings of disconnection or disengagement.
The good news?
Next year will be different!
Research is pointing to an upcoming battle for talent as retaining and attracting talent becomes the number one issue once the pandemic is over. Have you reflected on your team and how motivated they are? Do you know how they really feel about you and the company? What you do now may set you up for a great rebound in 2021 with a motivated, happy and refreshed staff ready to take it all on.
So, think about your talent retention and attraction strategy. What will you do differently in 2021?
And a final word from Pam.
Pam: 2021 will certainly (and hopefully) be very different – some industries are seeing staff turnover and finding it hard to get good people, even in 2020. Many staff are grateful for how they have been valued, respected and treated in 2020, which has built a strong connection to the culture and the organisation they work for. People generally don’t leave a job for money alone – how you treated and managed your team in 2020 will have a strong influence on how they act in 2021. Whatever the case, you cannot change what you did, but you can change what you will do next!