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Tue 26 Jan 2016 12:38 PM

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Focus: UAE firms rolling out unlimited annual leave

Employees claim policy encourages motivation and trust while others warn it could lower productivity

Focus: UAE firms rolling out unlimited annual leave
UAE employment, Middle East employment, GCC nationals working

Employees have spoken out about the benefits of revolutionary unlimited leave policies being implemented by some UAE companies.

However, an expert has warned that it could damage a company’s reputation and productivity.

US accounting firm Grant Thornton, which has an office in Dubai, last September announced the introduction a global leave policy that allows all of its employees to take an unlimited amount of unpaid holiday beyond the standard 25-30 days of paid leave already offered.

Pamela Harless, chief people and culture officer for Grant Thornton, who is based in the firm’s Chicago HQ, said in a statement at the time: “As the first public accounting and consulting firm to move away from the traditional paid time off model, we realise that our employees are not just talented professionals - they also aspire to be leaders, mentors, community advocates, dedicated parents and friends.

“Our goal is to further enhance our culture of trust where employees are empowered to manage their own time, which allows them to return to work refreshed, with better ideas and solutions for clients.

“We believe our flexible time off policy is the model for the professional services firm of the future.”

It is not known how many UAE-based companies have a similar policy in place, but employees who benefit from unlimited leave told The National that they were far more productive as a result.

Jihane Guettar, general manager of property website luxsqft, which has no restrictions on holiday days, said she often takes Sundays off to enjoy long weekends but would happily work overtime to finish a job when required.

“We have our 25 paid working days of holiday a year. On top of that we’re able to take more leave, which is unpaid. As long as we do our job and meet the deadlines, management is flexible with the leave.”

She added: “I’m the kind of person who would work 12-15 hours straight to finish a project or meet a deadline as well as weekends if needed.

“I believe it goes both ways, both parties give and take and that’s where the balance and mutual appreciation comes from.”

Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute, was quoted as saying the policy could work in favour of employers, too. “Employees with a fixed number of vacation days are more likely to take them,” he said. “When there’s no limit, there isn’t the same push to take the days, which results in some employees taking less time off.”

Less than one percent of US companies offer such an initiative, according to 2015 research from the Society of Human Resource Management. However, according to the National, a handful of large organisations, including Netflix, Virgin Group and General Electric, have recently introduced flexible leave policies.

However, not everyone agrees that it is a good idea. Dubai-based HR professional Heena Bulchandani told the newspaper employees should continue to provide a fixed number of holidays depending on the employees’ level and position, as it teaches people to instigate their own work-life balance within a proper structure.

“If companies give unlimited time off, there are more chances of employees misusing this benefit which, in the long run, could adversely affect organisational productivity, company image and customer satisfaction,” she said.

Rather than offering unlimited holiday, she added, companies should focus more on options such as job-sharing, part-time roles, working from home and flex¬ible hours to boost morale.

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