First-Class Coach: Unpaid leave

My company's offering unpaid leave as a way to avoid redundancies. But should I actually use it?

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 18 Oct 2010

My company is suggesting we all take two days a month unpaid leave till things get better, as a way of avoiding making redundancies. It's theoretically voluntary, in that we have to sign new contracts, but I'll probably comply. I'd quite like some extra leave but I'm wondering whether I'll be seen as disloyal if I actually take the time off - after all, there's still the same amount of work to do.

Kennett: One of my clients is the managing director of a company that has offered a similar deal to staff and is actively encouraging them to take the time off. As a result, nearly 95% of the 200 employees have agreed to be part of the scheme.

It has put pressure on staff to complete their work in fewer hours, but most people seem to find the extra days of leisure an appropriate compensation. After all, lack of time to do the things they'd like to do, or have to do, is the most common problem for all managers.

For this company, I don't think those taking advantage of their right to unpaid leave will be seen as disloyal. On the contrary, the people who have refused to sign up for this initiative may well be perceived as the disloyal ones.

It's to be hoped that your company will be similar to this one, and it will be taken for granted that those who choose to participate will spend two days a month away from work. That being so, have you thought about how you can turn this situation to your benefit? How will you employ this time? My suggestion would be to use it positively, to increase your professional and personal happiness.

Rather than going down the pub and moaning about your employer, take time to think through what you'd most like to change about your current situation.

Have you been stuck in a rut at work, doing the same old job and not feeling stretched and stimulated? If so, might there be a different role within the organisation that would suit you better? Or is there some sort of training or development you could pursue that would add to your skills and knowledge to make you better suited for a more senior role when times are more favourable?

There are free and subsidised training courses in many regions, as well as distance learning you might be able to tap into, given the time to explore what's available. Alternatively, you could use this trial period to restructure your working processes with a view to increasing your effectiveness and reducing pressure on your personal time. Improving your usefulness to your company is hardly likely to be seen as disloyal.

In your personal life, what are the things that you would really like to try but haven't until now had the time to do? Would you like to see more of a distant family, for instance? Is there a sport or leisure activity you've yearned to pursue, or some charitable work you'd like to become involved in?

Another client of mine always wanted to take part in a charity trek in Peru but never had the time to do the fitness training required. Now she's using her unpaid leave to go walking with the local rambling club.

Often, people promise themselves they'll do something special when they retire, but find that when the time comes, they're not capable physically, financially or even emotionally to turn this ambition into reality. You have the chance to make sure this doesn't happen to you.

But if you are not feeling adventurous or up for wholesale change, try tackling the domestic issues that have been draining you of energy. Make a list of the things that you're currently tolerating and decide which ones you're preparted to take action on to change. You may have avoided repainting the kitchen, taking seldom-worn clothing to the charity shop, or sorting through family photos.

Completing tasks that have nagged at you for some time is likely to have positive effects - psychological as well as practical - as you release pent-up energy and take greater control of the personal part of your life.

The worst case would be for you to agree to this apparently voluntary scheme and then not only fail to make the most of the time you are legitimately owed but also allow your resentment to grow to the point of embitterment.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, e-mail:

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