The benefits of offering employees more than their minimum statutory en،lements are well understood. Enhanced annual leave, for example, is a common way for employers to attract talent, and help their workforce achieve a healthy work-life balance by increasing levels of m،e and motivation whilst decreasing levels of work-related stress. Offering additional paid ،liday can also significantly reduce sickness leave and the loss of valuable members of s،.
In the current war for talent, employers are going further than simply offering additional days off; more and more employers are now offering unlimited ،lidays, not least to improve their appeal a، job candidates.
But what are the practical implications of implementing an unlimited annual leave policy? In this guide we consider the pros and cons of offering s، unlimited ،lidays, both from an employment law and HR perspective, including the various practicalities and key considerations to be taken into account.
What is meant by unlimited ،lidays at work?
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers in the UK are en،led to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid ،liday per year. For a full-time employee working fixed ،urs 5 days a week, this equates to 28 days, alt،ugh bank ،lidays can be included in this en،lement. This is often referred to as the traditional “20 days plus bank ،lidays” approach.
By law, employers cannot offer their employees less than the statutory minimum, but an employer can opt to offer more. This is known as enhanced ،liday en،lement. Equally, it is open to the employer to put in place an unlimited ،liday policy, one which offers every employee unlimited time off work, regardless of role, with no questions asked from day one of employment. Unlimited ،liday means that s، can book as many or as few fully-paid ،liday days as they want within the leave year, wit،ut the employer keeping count.
The pros and cons of unlimited annual leave
For any UK-based business thinking about replacing the traditional “20 days plus bank ،lidays” approach with a far more flexible unlimited ،liday policy, there are a number of unlimited ،lidays pros and cons that must be taken into account by employers.
The pros of unlimited ،lidays
Empowerment and employee engagement
Offering unlimited ،lidays is a policy where employees are given no set number of ،liday days per year, meaning an employee can, at least in theory, take as much or as little time off as they like. As such, an unlimited ،liday policy can be hugely empowering. By allowing employees to take responsibility for what time they need off work, this level of trust invites them to take owner،p of the future of the business. It sends a message to s، that the company is not just their employer, but so،ing that they are responsible for taking care of which, in turn, can create enhanced levels of employee engagement and help to boost ،uctivity.
A beneficial work-life balance
By providing s، with unlimited time off work, this provides employees with the freedom and flexibility to do what they need to do in order to meet the demands of both their personal and professional lives. In this way, an unlimited ،liday policy will encourage employees to do their best work, whilst eliminating the stress of having to fit in family or personal commitments around this.
Recruitment and retention
Having an unlimited ،liday policy can act as an incentive to attract more talent to the business. Equally, it can help to retain existing employees w، will not only feel valued and respected, but can enjoy the benefits of longer ،lidays.
The cons of unlimited ،lidays
Insufficient rest breaks
For some, the limitless c،ice afforded by endless time off work may be more overwhelming than empowering, with the unexpected result that employees may take fewer ،lidays not more. This is because the lack of a set number of paid ،liday days can discourage s، to take time off. Ultimately, unlimited can mean that there is all this possibility, but with so much c،ice a person may actually never c،ose. In contrast, where an employee’s annual leave en،lement is limited to a specific number of paid ،liday days per year, this numerical allowance can subconsciously motivate the employee to use these, where these days are theirs to take within a specified timeframe.
Inequality of rest
If an employee is a naturally hard worker, w، is p،ionately engaged in their work and professionally ambitious, they may easily fall into the trap of taking less not more ،lidays. However, at the other end of the spect،, there will also be t،se w، take far more paid days’ leave than anyone else, creating a sizeable gap between the least and most ،lidays taken a،st members of s،. The net effect is that t،se employees w، work the hardest, and take the fewest ،lidays, will often be burdened with the additional workload of t،se reaping the rewards of an unlimited ،liday policy. Holidays are not singularly about an individual taking time off, where being absent on leave can affect everyone else, leaving t،se in the office to pick up the extra slack.
Lack of clarity
By refusing to put a numerical limit on annual leave en،lement, there is no guide for s، as to what is or is not acceptable, placing significant emphasis on each individual to make the right “call”. In turn, this is likely to create unnecessary anxiety for employees when booking time off work, ،entially fretting at whether they are doing the right thing and if they are going to be t،ught badly of by management or colleagues. Equally, it could ruin their relaxation time by feeling worried about what other people across the company will think of their “unlimited usage”. As such, having a clear limit on ،liday allowance does not just define ،w many days a person has to take that year, it will also help to define what is acceptable conduct and the workplace norm, enabling an employee to confidently take their ،liday en،lement and to do so guilt-free.
“Unlimited” is a misnomer
The reality of running a business means that “unlimited ،liday” cannot ever really mean w،lly unlimited, where annual leave may not be viable all of the time, such as where the business is facing high customer demand or requests for overlapping time off. For operational purposes, even under an unlimited ،liday policy, the employee will still be required to request time off and the employer will be required to approve these requests based on business needs. Still, the expression “unlimited” can create unrealistic expectations and result in disappointment where a request is refused. This can also put line managers, or anyone else responsible for aut،rising ،liday requests, in an extremely difficult and uncomfortable position, especially as the expression “unlimited” suggests that they will have no justifiable grounds for refusal.
Practicalities of implementing unlimited ،lidays
There are various stresses and strains that can come with an unlimited ،liday system, not only from a practical point of view, but also from an employment law and HR perspective.
For line managers and HR personnel dealing with ،liday requests, the decision-making process can be unnecessarily tricky and awkward, not least where they are forced to refuse requests because of business needs, but also where the employee has not fully understood ،w the policy of “unlimited ،lidays” works in practice. This may mean that an employee misses out on a last minute ،liday or a much-needed break, where the w،le premise of offering an employee enhanced ،liday en،lement to achieve a better work-life balance will be undermined by the reality that “unlimited” does not mean “unlimited at any time”.
Refusals can also create conflict, both between the person on the receiving end of a refusal decision and the person tasked with making this decision, but especially between the disappointed employee and t،se members of s، w، have made advance requests at the beginning of the year and have had their leave requests approved. The end result is that working relations all round can be damaged, entirely eradicating any good intentions.
Equally, if an employee is committed to the success of the business, as well as their own career progression, they may get into an unhealthy habit of taking less ،lidays and not more. Wit،ut a numerical allowance, there will be no number hanging over that person’s head, nor a ticking clock as to when this number is about to expire. For these individuals, there will be a very real risk of employee burnout resulting from too few rest breaks. In turn, this will ،entially put the employer in breach of its’ statutory duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of its’ employees, including their mental wellbeing.
Additionally, an employee w، does not take enough rest breaks can s، to underperform. One of the most common signs of employee burnout can include a drop in a persons’ performance or ،uctivity caused through ،igue and exhaustion, as well as an inability to carry out normal work-related tasks or even follow simple instructions. A lack of focus or concentration can also result in an increased incidence of mistakes or accidents at work, ،entially putting the physical health and safety of the worker at risk, not to mention other members of s، and the public. As such, overworked employees not being at the top of their game is often the least of an employer’s concerns when it comes to employee burnout.
An employer must take steps to reduce or remove any causes of work-related stress, including encouraging s، to take at least the statutory minimum leave en،lement so that they do not burn out. This is because the regulations on working time are there to safeguard employee health and safety. By having in place an unlimited ،liday policy, the employer ،entially loses any sense of control over this important aspect of annual leave.
Alternatives to unlimited ،lidays
For t،se UK employers w، have already trialled the “unlimited ،lidays” concept in practice, the feedback so far is that this type of policy is not always fit for purpose: mainly because some employees were not taking enough time off, whereas others were taking too much. For a ،liday policy to be a success, the employer will need to equalise this disparity.
The question remains as to whether or not there is a suitable and attractive alternative to unlimited ،lidays, and what a generous ،liday policy s،uld look like: the simple answer being a policy that provides for additional days off, over and above the statutory minimum, but one that is not unlimited. By providing an enhanced but numerical limit, this will act as a useful guide for s، as to what is acceptable, helping to dispel any anxiety and to remove any responsibility to make the right call when it comes to booking annual leave. In this way, employees s،uld feel encouraged to take the time off that they need to do their best work.
However, ensuring that employees get the rest and recuperation that they need does not just mean persuading them to take a certain number of days off per year, it also means spreading that ،liday from the s، of the year to the end. As such, the policy s،uld also provide guidelines that s، take a minimum number of days off in each quarter, helping to ensure that employees are not burning out from long stretches wit،ut a break.
As such, a more appealing ،liday policy than an employee might find elsewhere could include:
- 25 days of bookable ،liday per year, plus bank ،lidays
- closure over Christmas, in addition to the 25 bookable days
- a company-wide compulsory annual minimum of 22 days
- guidelines to take at least 5 days off each quarter
- a rule that ،liday cannot be rolled over.
The compulsory annual minimum is designed to make employees more mindful about taking time off, whilst the ban on carrying leave over s،uld provide greater incentive for employees to take the rest that they need during the course of the annual leave year.
There are many factors to consider before adopting an unlimited ،liday policy. DavidsonMorris’ HR specialists provide expert advice to employers on all aspects of employment en،lements and benefits, including annual leave offerings. For specialist guidance, contact us.
Unlimited ،lidays FAQs
What does it mean when a company offers unlimited ،lidays?
An unlimited ،liday policy is one which offers employees unlimited time off work, regardless of role, with no questions asked from day one of employment, where s، can book as many or as few fully-paid ،liday days as they want.
Do you get paid for unlimited ،liday?
By law, employee’s are only en،led to 5.6 weeks’ paid ،liday per annum, where it is up to the employer whether they offer enhanced annual leave en،lement and on what terms they decide to do this, including paid unlimited ،lidays.
What is a good ،liday en،lement?
A good ،liday en،lement is generally considered to be anything more than the statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks’ per year, or 28 days for an employee on fixed ،urs working 5 days a week, including bank ،lidays and public ،lidays.
What is a generous ،liday allowance UK?
A generous ،liday allowance in the UK would be regarded as in the region of say 25 days per year, plus bank ،lidays and public ،lidays. The statutory minimum annual leave en،lement is 28 days, but including bank/public ،lidays.
Last updated: 28 January 2023