Company in Dubai that has implemented policy explains how it is implemented without affecting productivity
An ‘unlimited’ annual leave policy is the latest trend globally as companies look to attract and retain talent. Although rare, some companies in the UAE and the wider Gulf region offer the incentive as part of a larger benefits package.
By law, employees in the UAE are entitled to a fully paid annual leave of 30 days if they have completed one year of service.
Citing a recent study carried out in the Middle East, James Toye, a consultant at global recruitment agency Hays, said only 2 per cent of employers said they offer unlimited annual leave as a standard benefit. However, about one in four employers offer additional vacation days above the standard annual leave, according to the recruitment specialist’s research.
On the other hand, only 4 per cent of employees said that unlimited annual leave is a benefit they value.
One company in the UAE that offers the policy is Dubai-based super app Careem. In an interview with Khaleej Times, Kai Sin Tan, director of Rewards and Benefits at Careem, said the company offers an unlimited leave policy to provide “colleagues with the flexibility they need to accommodate personal circumstances while meeting the exceptionally demanding requirements of their jobs”.
“It’s part of our wider colleague value proposition which includes a flexible hybrid of in-office and home days and the opportunity to work from other locations for 30 days per year.”
How it has benefitted employees
Tan highlighted how the policy helped one employee spend an additional month abroad in her home country with her family. She hadn’t seen her family in two years due to Covid-related travel restrictions and by the time they eased, she had used up her annual leave allowance as stipulated by the UAE labour law.
“Another colleague needed to travel for a family emergency abroad but only had a few days left in the annual leave allowance. By utilising the unlimited leave benefit, (the colleague was) able to extend the stay and take additional time off to support the family,” said Tan.
Yet another employee had planned his wedding in one of two locations and booked time off for it well in advance, but the date changed frequently due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
How it works
Simply put, employees are not limited by a capped number of vacation days throughout the year.
“Once colleagues pass the probationary period and utilise all of their regular vacation days, they can apply for additional vacation days beyond what is guaranteed by UAE labour law at any time of year through Careem’s internal systems, the same way they would apply for their regular vacation days. The benefit does not require any extra rounds of approvals, and colleagues simply align with their managers on the upcoming workload and when a good time to be off is. Every colleague at Careem is entitled to this benefit, regardless of their role, seniority level, or location,” said Tan.
In practice, the policy is not about colleagues taking a lot of time off, but rather “about changing people’s mental relationship with leave days”.
The terms and conditions are the same as those of regular vacation days. “When a colleague applies for additional time off, they need to have the necessary discussions with their line manager to ensure that work will not be affected, and consider appropriate cover.”
The flip side
Tarek Salam, head of Mena Expansion at global HR platform Deel, said some employees may take advantage of the policy by requesting excessive time off, or use it as a way to extend long weekends or holidays. This could impact resources, productivity, and ultimately, the company’s bottom line.
Toye highlighted how the policy could potentially place additional pressure on the team when a colleague is on leave. However, “if the team is well-coordinated and organised, they can take turns and manage the workload”.
Another potential drawback is that, if employees do not have anyone to delegate tasks to, work may be delayed until they return from their annual leave. “To address this issue, companies may require employees to complete urgent tasks before taking their leave.”
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