Why marketing firm Bastion Collective is introducing unlimited leave for its staff

AFL Fergus Watts

Former AFL player and Bastion Collective founder Fergus Watts.

Australian-based marketing company Bastion Collective has revealed it will offer its staff unlimited annual leave in an effort to improve their overall wellbeing.

Former St Kilda footballer Fergus Watts established Bastion Collective when he was 23 and the business has now expanded to London, Shanghai, and Los Angeles, with over 170 staff. The company had annual revenue of $20 million in March last year.

Read more: Meet Fergus Watts, the former AFL player who created $20 million marketing company Bastion Collective

Employees who have been with the company for at least three years will be eligible for its new unlimited leave scheme, but Watts says staff loyalty is not the company’s priority.

“Our priority is not to get staff loyalty, you get staff loyalty by staying true to your values and getting staff to do the same,” Watts told SmartCompany.

“We’re trying to create an environment to further empower staff to be the best version of themselves.”

The leave policy runs a dual purpose of improving staff wellbeing while also leading to happier clients, says Watts.

“The more you believe in people the more you’ll get back. The number one interest for Bastion is that we’re client first always, so this policy is designed to make each others’ lives better,” he says.

“It’s been shown around the world that when you empower people, you get much more engaged people.”

Bastion Collective is also running a number of other wellbeing programs for staff, including a nine-week wellness program featuring yoga and meditation.

“We’re also running an emotional intelligence course for staff to develop and improve their emotional intelligence. If we get them to understand themselves we can get them to perform better,” Watts says.

Unlimited leave policies can have adverse effect

While it’s early days for the policy, Fergus Watts says the feedback from staff has been “pretty good”, but no staff have submitted leave requests yet as far as he knows.

Ben Watts, general manager at wattsnext HR, says the biggest issue with unlimited leave policies is not people taking too much of it, but people taking less leave than they would have without the policy.

“From what I understand the biggest issue with unlimited leave policies is more around people not taking enough, or not taking as much as they did before,” he told SmartCompany.

“It’s a bit of a psychological thing. Employees have to make sure their job is up to speed and they have someone to replace them if they take leave.”

“It also makes people feel uncomfortable if they feel they’re taking too much.”

Fergus Watts says he “can’t see any reason why not” when it comes to SMEs implementing similar policies, and Ben Watts agrees. But he says effective management is needed.

“In a small business it’s a great thing, but it’s much harder to implement. In bigger businesses like the KPMGs of the world you’ve got a lot of people with the same skills, so covering someone’s leave is easier,” Ben Watts says.

“For an SME, covering people on leave can be a real challenge.”

Despite this, a well-implemented unlimited leave policy can be a fantastic way to both retain staff and attract new hires, says Watts, but stresses it has to be planned out well.

“Managing it well is key. If one person is taking more leave than other members of the team, it can upset company culture,” he says.

“If it’s not managed well it can be really damaging. The business still needs to run during the time people take leave, so the policy can’t affect the day-to-day running of business.”

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