Strategy

Here’s what happened when this boss offered her workers unlimited leave

Dominic Powell /

unlimited leave

Inventium chief executive officer Amantha Imber. Source: Supplied

An Aussie boss who took the bold step of offering her employees unlimited paid leave has reflected on the policy after nearly three years, saying it’s done wonders for her company.

Amantha Imber, founder and chief executive of consulting firm Inventium, told SmartCompany in early-2016 she decided to take the bold step of offering her 12 staff unlimited leave, no strings attached.

“It is what it sounds like, unlimited paid leave. Staff can take as much leave as they feel they need to, we want to give them the autonomy,” Imber says.

The leave has no conditions attached, so an employee could theoretically take four weeks of leave in May, and then one month later, take another four, and get paid for all of it.

While this might seem like a nightmare for many small-business owners, Imber says the past three years have been fantastic, both for the business and its employees. No workers have abused the system, and workers’ work-life balance has improved.

“We had consultants who were exhausted, working long hours, travelling, and going above and beyond for clients. We had a great culture, but some of our staff were really tired, so that’s what we were trying to solve,” she says.

“Three years on and that’s no longer a problem. Now people go through busy periods, and then they’ll take a long weekend or two. No one in the company is on the brink of burnout, and people are feeling really balanced.”

However, despite the apparent simplicity of Inventium’s policy, Imber says there were some key steps she took while implementing it she believes were essential to its success.

Key steps for unlimited leave

Firstly, Imber says it was key the policy was appropriately labelled, as calling it ‘unlimited leave’ may encourage abuse in some workplaces. She chose to label her policy “rebalanced leave”, as its intention was to help her staff fix their work-life balance.

Imber also warns employers away from implementing ‘unlimited’ leave policies with a number of conditions, saying it’s best to call the policy exactly what it is.

“Our policy was very much implemented with the intention of treating people like adults. We were also very careful to label it rebalanced leave, so it wouldn’t be confused with any other type of leave,” she says.

Secondly, Imber said she had to lead by example, as if she had continued to just take four weeks of leave a year as the company’s chief executive, the policy would not have been as widely embraced.

She’s taken nearly seven weeks of leave over the past year, and also does a half-day once a week.

“I tried to be a good role model, and I also started introducing positive reinforcement for when people took rebalanced leave. I’d say in our meetings, ‘isn’t it great that this person is taking some time off today’,” she says.

“What started to happen then is that employees would start to look after each other, and encourage each other to take rebalanced leave if they noticed someone under the weather.”

“You really need to work to change behavioural norms when implementing policies like this.”

What businesses need to do

While the policy has succeeded in Imber’s small team of 12, she believes it would work just as well in larger and smaller organisations, pointing to Netflix’s unlimited leave policy as an example.

If businesses are interested in implementing similar policies, Imber warns it won’t work if the company’s employees don’t want to go to work in the first place, saying a strong culture is key.

“It’s about the type of people you hire because if they don’t want to be there in the first place, they’ll abuse these policies,” she says.

“Look at the intention behind the policy. Is there a problem you’re trying to solve, or is it just an employee perk? And if it is, is that necessary?”

Finally, for business owners worried about the cost, Imber says the focus should be on staff retention, which has vastly improved at Inventium.

“It’s hugely costly to replace staff members, especially at a consultancy where your people are your business. It’s worked well for us, and we’ve retained staff members who perhaps would have otherwise left,” she says.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany. Email him at [email protected].

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