Is wellbeing leave a possibility for small businesses?

Xero has implemented wellbeing leave for its employees, but a policy like this may be unattainable for small businesses.

To mark World Mental Health Day 2018 on 10th October, Xero introduced ‘wellbeing leave’ for its employees.

Other companies have done it in the past, including property firm, Lendlease. Since they started it in 2015, employee engagement and retention has increased.

But what is wellbeing leave, exactly? Let’s clear up a couple of key questions first.

What is wellbeing leave and how does it work?

Wellbeing leave is an allotted number of days that an employee can take to look after their mental health. In Xero’s case, it’s three.

What do people do on wellbeing days?

You’re going to have to trust your employees on this one. They could spend it at the spa, visiting family, at a football match – whatever works for them.

I talk to Rachael Powell, chief customer and people officer at Xero, about the company’s new policy.

‘It’s long been assumed that being sick is physical, but our version is that it could be physical, or mental, or spiritual or emotional.

‘Whether it’s just been a full-on week, or if our staff are struggling with anxiety or depression and can’t face the day, we want to empower them to take the time to recharge and recover.

‘To put it simply, we don’t want people to feel like they have to come to work when they aren’t in the right state to be here.’

Wellbeing leave is good for people who aren't feeling up to work

But is there a catch? Surely something else has to give way.

‘Xero’s wellbeing leave is in addition to statutory annual leave and has replaced existing sick leave entitlements,’ says Powell.

Ah. So it’s essentially sick leave under a different name. It’s fine if you’re feeling a little frazzled, but it’s not ideal for chronic sufferers of anxiety and depression.

How it translates to small businesses

A policy like this is all well for corporates with bigger HR teams and greater resources. For small businesses, however, these resources are much tighter – can they afford to let staff take extra leave?

David Grimes is CEO of tech scale-up, Sorted. He gives employees 40 paid days off a year, including two ‘duvet days’.

As long as employees let their manager know before 9am on the day and it doesn’t clash with any key project work, they’re good to take the day off.

“Smaller businesses may struggle to resource accordingly when staff take days off at the last minute”

He says that employees appreciate the flexibility that duvet days, along with other leave, gives them, but the fact that it’s only two days out of the year means that the impact is minimal on the business.

It’s not all the simple to implement though. Wellbeing or duvet days just aren’t perks that are available to small businesses in general because they’re so stretched. David agrees.

‘Smaller businesses may struggle to resource accordingly when staff take days off at the last minute, but benefits and perks such as these are a huge factor in attracting top talent in the industry,’ he says.

It’s true. Studies widely show that company perks keep staff around, and one of these is extra leave. According to CV Library, 37.3 per cent of employees see extra holiday as the most desirable perk.

When asked about issues with the duvet days policy, David responded, ‘There haven’t been any challenges so far, touch wood!’

I’m intrigued to see how wellbeing leave and duvet days develop and whether other companies, large and small, will adopt similar policies themselves.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

Related Topics

Employee wellbeing