12/07/2005 - 22:00

Finding a balance on choice at work

12/07/2005 - 22:00


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It’s probably a good time to weigh into the debate about annual leave provision with a few thoughts about holidays, which I believe are an integral part of work.

Finding a balance on choice at work

It’s probably a good time to weigh into the debate about annual leave provision with a few thoughts about holidays, which I believe are an integral part of work.

We are not machines that can work until we wear out; we need replenishment and rest on a daily, weekly and annual basis.

The more we use our brains for work – which has been the history of employment – the longer we seem to be able to work, and yet the more we need time out.

I don’t think I need to produce a PhD on the evolution of work to justify the weekend, the long weekend or the annual vacation, or to find acceptance of the fact human beings do best when they can kick back and recharge their batteries every now and then.

Perhaps a case in point is how often those in business who really make it – be it a successful growth story or the sale of a business they built – often take a ‘sabbatical’ to reassess their lives and reacquaint themselves with their families and friends.

I don’t necessarily advocate that as a way of life, I merely point out even high achievers recognise the need for rest.

Another example is found in some big law firms, where partners make sure that long service leave is part of the deal, and it’s often taken after seven years, in line with the public service.

Of course, these are examples

of people in powerful positions who can negotiate their own requirements and who often go without holidays for considerable lengths of time.

Generally, though, Australians recognise the need for holidays.

That is not the case elsewhere. Even sophisticated countries such as the US have never really embraced the holiday culture. There, holidays are fewer, the standard being two weeks a year, which improves with duration of employment and seniority.

I have never agreed with that. In my view it’s one of the key reasons that Americans fail to travel as much as they should beyond their own shores.

It is their loss. Holidays are for many as much a time of growth as they are to shut down.

Encountering new cultures, making budget, logistics and organisation, sharing with others, making new friends and contacts, and learning more about those closest to you are all possible – whether you are travelling to Timbuktu or Tambellup.

So what is all this about?

Much time is being spent arguing the merits, or otherwise, of the Federal Government’s proposed industrial relations reform, and one of the key topics is leave entitlements.

It appears that Western Australia’s industrial relations regime is being used by opponents of reform as an example of a place where holidays may be sold off. Worse, where holidays may be forcibly bought from the employee, as the hype goes.

As a Western Australian I have to say I was not aware that this latter practice existed. There are few circumstances where it is justified, in my opinion. An exception, perhaps, is where people build up enormous banks of holidays over more than a year and create liabilities that are difficult for the employer to manage.

However, I am not opposed to allowing people to cash out their holidays, voluntarily. While I have always valued my holidays, there are people who want to do that. Good luck to them, I have never been opposed to choice. Many people – due to immediate circumstances, carefree nature or their own grand plans – need the money more than the break.

For those engaged in fly-in, fly-out employment in the resources industry or other sectors where two weeks off, two weeks on (or other similar arrangements) take place, it is understandable that holidays may be incorporated into the overall pay. That suits both the employer, who wants regularity, and the employee, who ends up with significant time off as a result.

These are, of course, exceptions to the rule.

Any business that thinks having staff on 52 weeks a year without a break is kidding themselves it will get the best from its employees, or that it will have them there for the long term. Perhaps such businesses don’t care.

Having the option to cash in holidays is fine by me, so long as it is the employees’ freedom of choice.

I would not want to put up obstacles to employment but I think there are far better ways of creating flexibility in the workforce than forcing people to take cash instead of holidays.

I have said before that I think our industrial relations system with its antiquated awards deserve to be refreshed and brought into the modern world, but four weeks a year holiday seems to be a sensible balance between the old and the new way of living.

Perhaps it’s just what I have grown used to, but I have always felt it worked just fine.

FBA awards night

The annual Family Business Australia Family Business Awards is a highlight of the WA Business News calendar and again the program has unearthed some great businesses for our readers to discover.

This year I again donned the chair of judges hat to oversee the process with what was a mainly new judging panel. The experience was different again this year, as my comments in the liftout attest.

Like any sector, the massive family business arena is evolving with the economy and the winners and finalists reflect that – through both the newcomers and the old hands that continue to stand the test of time.


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