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Guide to Managing Leave for Hybrid Teams

In the move to hybrid working, you’ve probably made a few changes. The last few years have certainly been a time for reflection, contemplation, and carving out new ways of working, to enable businesses to operate with a hybrid workforce.

Everything from recruitment and retention to communications and technology, through to logistics and facilities management, has been turned on its head and rewritten to reflect the way we now work. Some areas lend themselves well to multi-location working, but others are slightly trickier to navigate.

And when you’ve built your processes around one workplace, it can seem like a conundrum to have to unpick them and update them to include remote working too.

One such area is the management of leave in your workplace; both planned and unplanned. It is of course a significant part of running any business and managing teams, but it may have you scratching your head figuring out how to make it fit for hybrid working.

Worry not, help is at hand. We’ve put together a guide to assist you, with our tips and advice.

Going away this year?

Let’s start at the beginning. When we talk about ‘work leave’ or ‘time off’,it’s likely the first things that spring to mind are holidays and sickness. On a basic level, these are the most common reasons to be off work; they are the planned and the unplanned aspects of work leave. In reality, the range of leave circumstances is vast, and is affected by a number of factors, including geography, industry-type, and company preference. In order to effectively manage work leave in your company, you first need to understand the breadth of reasons your teams will need to be off.  

Broadly speaking, work leave falls into a number of overarching categories.

Annual Leave

Probably the most widely known of the ‘planned’ reasons. Holiday, vacation, paid time off; whatever you call it, this is the period of time workers are usually entitled to, which is bookable in advance and for any purpose.  

Sickness, Health & Medical Leave

The second of the ‘big two’ is sick leave; one to report in rather than book ahead, with the exception of when an employee is signed off sick from work by their medical practitioner, although this typically has an element of unpredictability in it, as we do not plan to become ill.  

Within the realm of health-related absence we include medical leave or leave for medical appointments.  

And with the increased knowledge and awareness of the importance of looking after our mental health, many organisations now offer leave days to help support employee wellbeing. Variously described as Mental Health Days,Wellbeing Days, or even Duvet Days, these are usually at the discretion of the company, and they help to look after colleagues and encourage a caring culture.

Family & Personal Leave

There are a few different types of leave under this banner, some of which are widely used and others less so. These relate to our home and private lives.

For the early days of family life, we have maternity, paternity and adoption leave. Parental leave also falls under this part but in many cases can be used up to the time a child becomes an adult.  

For everyday life, there is time off for dependents, time off to look after older relatives, carers leave, and time off to look after relatives with medical conditions.

Most organisations offer bereavement leave and compassionate leave, sometimes inter-changing.

And there are times when emergency or unplanned leave has to be taken for personal matters.

National Holidays

Time off for the planned holidays of your country is standard. Typically, these will relate to national celebrations, religious days, and special occasions such as a Royal Coronation.

Special Leave

Not all reasons for leave can be covered under the main umbrella terms above, and there are many other types being offered, such as:

Leave for public duties, Study leave, Sabbatical leave, Garden leave (common in the UK for employees working their notice, where it is felt appropriate for them to be away from the workplace), Religious observance leave, Adverse weather leave, Voting Leave, Military Leave, Time off in lieu of extra hours worked, and Victims leave.

As well as understanding the different types of leave, it is crucial to understand which types are legally mandated and which you can offer at company discretion to enhance your company benefits package. It should also be noted that not all leave is paid.

Leave Around the World

Whilst work leave follows a similar structure globally, there are variations by country.  One of the more noticeable is around the annual leave that workers are legally entitled to take.

For example, workers in the UK are entitled to 28 days paid annual leave (pro-rata for part time workers), which can include public holidays. Over the pond in the US, vacation leave is not required by federal law, but most organisations provide some paid vacation leave. Workers in Germany are entitled to 24 days paid leave for a 6-day week and 20 days paid leave for a 5-day week. The variations across the globe run along these lines, with many countries offering a similar entitlement, though not all include the entitlement to paid leave.  

Similarly, for sickness absence, there are differences.  Some countries do not specify an entitlement of a maximum number of sick days but do entitle workers to be off sick and do offer statutory sick pay, whilst others link sick days to the number of days/hours worked or length of service.

Knowledge of these variations is critical when managing absence in your organisation, particularly if you are multi-national, as some of your workers may be working under different laws to others and you need to ensure your leave policy is fair and equitable whilst adhering to the laws of the countries you operate in.

Work Leave in Hybrid Land

Hybrid work comes with its own challenges - we’ve covered a few in our blog post here - but there are some specific to leave management. We’ve listed below some things to be mindful of when you are formulating your hybrid leave management strategy.

Lack of clear guidance – This is a risk in any part of a business, but it exists here too.  If workers don’t understand what is expected of them, the lines can become blurred, and the process can break down.

Difficulty tracking leave – With workers in different locations, there is a risk of not knowing who is where and when colleagues are on leave. This can impact on productivity, team cohesion, and working relationships.

Remote workers not taking sick leave – The risk of remote colleagues continuing to work when they are ill is significant; it could be that they feel just well enough to do some work at home, or they feel they might appear less committed if they take a sick day at home. This can lead to poor health in the worker, poor mental health, burnout, and in the long run lower productivity as they struggle to work. It may also affect the culture between office and remote workers.

Colleagues not taking leave – If a company’s culture isn’t one that promotes a healthy work-life balance and encourages colleagues to take their leave entitlement, this can impact negatively as staff may feel pressure to demonstrate work commitment by over-working.

Global Variations – Companies must ensure leave policies are compliant with the laws of the countries in which they operate and are equitable for all colleagues.

Staffing levels – It can be more difficult to manage staffing and cover levels when colleagues are based in different locations and are on leave.

Plan, Communicate, Support

So, how do we address these challenges and formulate our approach to leave management?

Have a clear plan

First and foremost, and right at the top, you need a plan. A clear, concise, straightforward, easy-to-follow plan. This should set out everything about how your company will manage leave in the hybrid workforce. How this is structured is up to you, but it must be compliant with company and country law, it must be accessible to all staff and volunteers, and it must clearly state expectations and procedures.

Part of this should be a policy or policies specifying the company approach to work leave management. This could include all types of leave, or different types could have their own policy. Similarly, sickness and medical leave can be included, or you may wish to have a separate policy. As long as these policies are compliant, their structure is company choice.

Your plan should also include how colleagues should request leave, how leave is approved or not, and for unplanned leave, how leave is recorded and what type it is, and how to report leave to managers.

Be compliant

All policies and procedures should be compliant and in line with legislation, including company and business law, health and safety law, and laws unique to the countries you operate in.

Consider leave management software

Rather than relying on having to collate documents and emails, you can automate the processes by using software to do this for you. It can help you manage leave requests and approvals, record when colleagues are on leave, help to coordinate cover, and it can also help to identify when colleagues are not taking their leave.  

You can do all this with Team Today and it will take away the headache of multiple leave requests in multiple locations and put it all into one place.

Have a clear reporting and approvals system

All colleagues should be able to easily request leave and receive speedy approvals wherever they are based.

For unplanned leave, the process needs to be equally straightforward, allowing workers to report in sickness or emergency leave quickly, offering numerous ways to do this rather than insisting on only one method, for example, telephoning in before 9am. All processes should be widely accessible to all colleagues.

Plan for the unplannable

Include in your planning the things you can’t always plan for. Consider what you will do if workers are sick; how will you cover their work? Do you have a contingency planning process to ensure business continuity?

Communicate clearly and consistently

Effective communication is the key to so many doors in hybrid working. If everybody knows what expectations are, and how to do things, there is little room for confusion, and this promotes an open culture in your company.

Every colleague should be aware of the company policies and be able to access them.

Lead from the top

Your teams need to know that their managers take their leave too and if they are sick, they stay off sick. Lead by example and you will encourage a culture where colleagues take the leave they are entitled to, and don’t risk becoming burnt out or disenfranchised.

Support your teams

There will be times when staff need more support if they are off work due to illness or a family emergency, for example, and managers need to ensure this support is in place. This can include a transitional return to work, and making sure returning employees have handovers and are welcomed and supported back into the business.

Take a bird’s eye view

Use the information you have as a manager to identify where your teams might be struggling and not taking leave. This could indicate a bigger problem and it is useful to take an over-arching view in case something becomes clear that needs looking into.

Pastoral Support

Consider your wider support offering for pastoral care for your teams; for example, providing a range of support options for times when they are sick, times when they are having troubles in their personal lives, times when they are caring for others and not for themselves. These do of course need to be balanced with people’s right not to want to receive support, but it should always be there for them.

Essentially, the key to successfully managing leave for your hybrid workforce is to have a clear, compliant plan, a clear communication strategy, and solid support in place for your teams.  

For more insights and articles about hybrid working from Team Today, visit our blog here.

Madeleine Thompson

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