The rewards of unlimited leave

  • 6Minutes

One of the most rewarding realizations I’ve come to on my journey as a founder has been embracing the absolute freedom we have to experiment and try new things. 

Innately, as entrepreneurs, we’re creators. We’re bringing to life things that previously did not exist, yet we too need to remind ourselves of this fact from time to time. The fact everythingthat exists has been made up by someone before us, and at one time or another was essentially a theory, a hunch, and an experiment.

I got a hunch one day, several years ago now, that the status quo of ‘management’ approving leave, and organizing how we would do things while the person was away was not the optimal way to operate. I had a hunch that defining the amount of leave one could take each year wasn’t the only way of doing things. I had a hunch (or really an ‘aha’ moment) that in having policies and rules and limits on leave I was treating my team as though they were unable to make these kinds of decisions for themselves.

There had to be a better way that honored each person’s sovereign ability to work these things out for themselves. And so I decided to experiment.

I wondered what it would look like if we embraced unlimited, or undefined, leave. If we empowered everyone in the team to make their own decisions around whether or not they could take leave, how they could take it, and how their areas of responsibility and accountability would carry on during their intended leave period.

Setting up the experiment 

One of the things we tend to do when we decide to experiment like this, is propose it to the team to get their thoughts and feedback (that way we can truly collaborate on what we’re creating), but also be clear it’s an experiment and we may chose to go back to how things were, or to take an entirely different approach that we can’t yet see. Things are always evolving and always in motion – this is very much a part of our culture.

In the years we’ve been doing this, first in my previous companies, and now here at Growmotely, it has been a huge success. We’ve not once had anyone abuse this way of operating by taking advantage of it or leaving anyone else in the lurch. The nature of helping each other out at different times tends to keep us all in our integrity when it comes to our contribution to the team, and the trust that’s extended has been metabolized into our culture in a way that sees us all wanting to be trustworthy… this is – worthy of the trust being extended to us each and every day by all of us in the team. 

We’ve had learning curves for new team members for sure, it’s a different way of operating than most are used to, and if anything we’ve developed a practice of encouraging each other to remember to take time out if we feel someone may be needing a break. This would be the main risk I see with our way of operating, is the ‘always on’ culture, and as such we talk often about personal boundaries and ensuring people truly do feel safe to take time out when needed.

How it works in practice is we all agree we are responsible and accountable for our individual roles, and in the overall goal or objective of delivering on that work. 

We’re then free to work from wherever and however we like to ensure our work gets done. Within that agreement, we can take as much or as little leave as we like, provided we have a plan for ensuring things still get delivered on time and at the high standard of quality we set for ourselves. 

Often we’ll take longer vacations, but work while we’re away. 

Likewise we may decide to have a total switch-off break for a period, and during that time we’ll work with our teammates to have them cover what needs to be covered, knowing that we’ll repay the favor down the track. 

Once again, personal boundaries come in here and each person can absolutely say “No, I can’t take on that extra right now because of XYZ” and it’s then up to the individual to ultimately decide whether they can actually take leave or not.

In the case someone needs or wants to take extended leave, like paternity leave or a break to go back to study (where their work just can’t be covered indefinitely by someone else) we’d work together to arrange for them to take unpaid leave until they might want to come back.  

What about in an emergency?

Of course, in an emergency, when someone needs to take unplanned leave, we all pitch in to keep them covered and support them. When this has happened in the past we have worked together as a team to come up with a plan, once again sharing the load on this, rather than it having to come ‘down’ as a directive from management. This has happened on several occasions, and has been handled with grace by all involved each and every time.

All of this has been a very fluid and open process to date. Will it work forever? And as our company grows to hundreds, and ultimately thousands, of people? We don’t know. Luckily, we’re powerful creators who can map out new ways of doing things if and when we need to!

Unlimited leave may not be right for you, however mind gymnastics is! It’s our hope that in sharing how we do things, whether they’re the same as how you do them, or completely different, it sparks thoughts, ideas and conversations. It’s our hope that it continues to remind each of us of the power we hold as creators, building the future always and forever. There are no rules in truth, everything is made up, and we too can try new things and see how they land. 

This is an infinite game. 

Article by Founder and CEO Sarah Hawley

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