In the age of unprecedented workforce mobility, employers are going to new lengths to be an 'employer of choice'. As a result, employees are enjoying more benefits and flexibility than ever before. Salary packages often include gym memberships, health care discounts, corporate events and wellness initiatives. Now, the Australian workforce is witnessing a new rising trend: leave entitlements that extend beyond the traditional annual leave, personal/carer's leave, and compassionate leave.
In March 2019, ANZ launched its 'loyalty leave' policy, which increases paid annual leave to 5 weeks for staff who have had more than 3 years' consecutive service. Shortly after, Deloitte Australia announced its existing parental leave scheme, which offers 18 weeks' paid parental leave to all new parents regardless of gender, can now be taken over a three year period.
These local announcements follow an international trend in employers providing greater workplace flexibility by offering more generous leave entitlements than the national standards to attract and engage staff.
What are some employers offering?
Some employers offer their staff the following:
- Unlimited annual leave: International companies, including Virgin and Netflix, have introduced unlimited paid annual leave. Although this sounds too good to be true, Australian innovation consulting firm Inventium also introduced unlimited annual leave, terming it 'rebalance leave'. The policy allows staff to take as much paid time off as needed, usually following intense working periods, in recognition of the fact that staff often go through periods of working beyond the standard 38-hour week.
- 'Pawternity' leave: Although it doesn't seem to have reached Australia yet, some companies across the globe such as Brewdog (a craft beer company), a Scandinavian company Musti Group and UK tech company BitSol have introduced 'pawternity' leave, which provides paid leave for employees who have recently acquired a cat or dog, or to care for ill or injured pets. Brewdog is offering a week of paid leave to settle in your new pooch. Some companies are also extending their bereavement leave entitlements to those who suffer the loss of a furry friend.
- 'Floating' holidays: Companies including PwC Australia and PepsiCo Australia offer staff one 'floating' public holiday per year which allows employees to 'swap out' an Australian public holiday for another day during the year to celebrate a religious or cultural holiday such as Chinese New Year or Diwali.
- Birthday leave: A number of employers, including PwC Australia, offer employees a paid day off on their birthday.
- Paid volunteer leave: Workplaces including National Australia Bank and James Cook University offer employees up to two days paid leave per year to volunteer with NGOs.
- Lifestyle leave: Lifestyle leave is in addition to annual leave and provides employees with the option to purchase leave or take unpaid leave throughout the year. Westpac and EY offer employees up to 12 weeks' lifestyle leave per year.
- Special leave: Some employers such as the University of Sydney offer additional 'special leave' for occasions such as moving to a new house or receiving citizenship.
- Moving leave: employers are increasingly offering employees an opportunity to take paid leave when moving house.
We all know that free lunches, beanbags and on-site fitness classes are the 'norm' now for many workplaces, however, the benefits that some employers are willing to offer, are fairly extreme. Many of the biggest technology employers in the U.S are now offering to cover the costs of freezing eggs, which allows employees to have babies later in their careers. The procedure, which is surgical, can cost in excess of $10,000. While supporters laud these employers, which can struggle with gender diversity, for making an effort to attract and retain more female employees, critics are concerned that this is an example of employers expecting and indeed encouraging their employees to put their careers in front of their personal lives.
Have these policies been successful?
It comes as no surprise that ANZ, Westpac, National Australia Bank, PwC and Deloitte, whom all feature within the list above, all ranked within the top 10 of LinkedIn's 2019 Top Companies list of where Australians want to work. Lists such as the LinkedIn compilation show us that employees value workplace flexibility and the opportunity to enjoy a life outside out work, and it is what separates regular employers from employers of choice.
Will this trend continue?
The question remains whether we will see the trend for more unusual types of leave increasingly implemented across Australian workplaces to help drive attraction and retention.
Australia's minimum leave entitlements under the National Employment Standards (NES) of 20 days of paid annual leave and 10 days of personal leave per year of service are comparatively generous compared to a large number of countries, particularly as they accrue year on year and no 'use it or lose' principles apply. There is certainly no legal obligation to offer above and beyond what the NES prescribes.
However, if Australian employers want to become or remain an employer of choice and retain a competitive edge over competitors in the war over attracting and retaining talent – including large scale international competitors with the means to fund generous leave entitlements – it may become increasingly necessary to offer such "perks".