Preparing your agency for annual leave in 2021/22

7 Sep 2021
Estate Agents Co-operative
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If you’re like most people, this year, you probably spent a lot of time listening to daily updates about Covid cases and hunting for that elusive second jab within an almost impossible five-day window.

There’s a good chance you home schooled, or knew someone who did.

You likely experienced vastly different working conditions than you have in the past.

And we’re almost 100% sure you didn’t spend as much time with family and friends as you would have liked.

Something else most of us also didn’t do this year was take a holiday or a sick day.

Why, in the midst of a global pandemic weren’t we taking sick days?

ABC tells us that genuine sick days and ‘sickies’ were down, with many attributing it to people working from home and not needing to separate themselves from others when unwell, feeling guilty if not working while at home, or, not catching as many bugs because we spent a lot less time around germ-sharing colleagues.

Likewise, Roy Morgan reports by May 2021, Australians had 175 million days of annual leave in the bank, which, even at that point, prior to Sydney’s extended lockdowns, was up 23 million days from the previous year.

As our long awaited ‘freedom day’ actually, probably, possibly, maybe draws closer (who knows until it’s actually THE day, if it will happen), suddenly those 175+ million days of leave are finally also drawing closer!

When looking toward the light and seeing that long-yearned for trip to the coast, mountain getaway or peaceful camping trip; as both employees and employers, it’s important we think about the logistics of our post-Covid holidays.

  1. What if staff all want to go on holiday at once?

While, in a lot of areas, the property market has remained surprisingly resilient, there’s no denying, many have felt the pinch of fewer listings and more competition.

Though the Christmas period is usually a bit of a quieter time in real estate, with the year that has been, can agencies really afford to close down completely?

This year, how you will staff your office over Christmas is going to be a crucial consideration for many employers.

No one has taken holidays for more than 12 months. If we’re taking turns for leave – it’s everyone’s turn, and not surprisingly, we are all going to want to take holidays at once.

So, as your staff mass exit out the door, how do you keep the business going?

The best way to approach this situation, is to be really transparent and well planned.

The problem is there, it’s identified, so, now, when we’re still a few months out, take the time to sit down with your team, as a group to work through how you might approach the holiday season as fairly as possible.

From the perspective of employees, we are all craving a getaway. It’s worth remembering, though, that if everyone goes at once, you’re likely heading to overcrowded, overpriced beach locations, where migrating holiday makers increase your risk of viral exposure – vaxxed or not.

Consider if it might be worth holding off and planning your break after the crowds have departed.

  1. What if staff don’t want to holiday and leave you with a big financial liability?

There’s no arguing 175 million days of owed leave is a big liability, but thankfully, no one employer faces a problem quite so big.

Despite that, the hours your team may have banked up after almost two years without a break, can be a big liability to your business – and not one you want to hold onto.

Though most will juggle how to staff over Christmas as teams go on leave, some offices will face another problem, as agents try to make up for lost time, make the most of reduced competition or just try to avoid the holiday crowds.

While your first port of call is always to be honest with your employees – ‘we know you’ve all had a tough year, but our business relies on you taking some leave’ – some or all employees still might choose to avoid a holiday.

Fairwork tells us: “An employer can direct an employee to take annual leave, but only when an award or registered agreement allows it and the requirement is reasonable... the employee has an excessive annual leave balance, the employer’s enterprise is being shut down for a period (such as between Christmas and New Year)”.

When taking this approach, bottom line will often be top of mind, but also consider how forcing leave might affect culture and employee morale.

Fairwork goes on to suggest that employees can cash out annual leave – which reduces your liability – but only when a registered agreement allows it.

  1. What if you need to deny leave for some staff?

As noted, there may be a situation within which you need to deny a staff member’s request for annual leave. Fairwork reports you can do this, but only if the refusal is reasonable.

In the case where you literally have no other staff and may be forced to close down, causing losses, this may be deemed as reasonable.

When taking this approach, keep in mind you could also do more harm than good.

By this point in the year (or two years), without leave, and with the stresses of Covid having plagued the last 24 months, mental health is a really important factor in any decision.

If you force a staff member to continue to work when they really need a break, and this is their first chance to really take one, do you risk them suffering poor mental health, and consequently, experiencing a decrease in motivation and productivity?

What can you do to prepare?

The fact is, this has not been an ordinary year for anyone, and being consultative and understanding is going to be at the heart of finding a path that works for you and your employees when the world opens back up and holidays are once again possible.

To be ready, you can:

  1. Check your obligations – before conversations or decrees, understand your legal obligations to your staff. Revisit their employment agreements and any awards that apply, and know if you have a right to force leave or deny it.
  2. Have a plan – knowing your obligations, knowing your staff, knowing the leave that is banked up and calculating how it might affect your business, make a plan. Get a solid understanding of what the business can and can’t accommodate, so any conversations with staff are based on a foundation of smart business strategy.
  3. Keep communication lines open – start by opening up those conversations now, being transparent both about people and business needs, and work as a team to find a suitable solution. People are tired, but ultimately, most are understanding.

 

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