As more organisations introduce ‘life leave’, one such employer’s people leader says it is the “bare minimum” workplaces can do to support employees.

The policy introduced by Who Gives A Crap was prompted by the recent Roe v Wade events in the United States, but covers a broad range of scenarios with the intention of respecting employees’ privacy, says vice president of people and culture Ellie Smith.

For example, Smith says employees can access up to 20 days from their life leave “bucket” to attend peaceful protests, access mental health services, take menstrual leave, or undertake medical treatments including IVF, contraception, gender affirmation surgery, and safe abortion.

Importantly, she says, employees do not need to tell anyone what they are using the leave for.

“We believe that part of ensuring human rights is giving people access and also opportunity to make decisions for what is right for them,” Smith tells HR Daily.

“How do we show up and help people without putting an expectation on employees that they have to tell us exactly what’s going on in their life, when it’s so deeply personal, often traumatic?”

Smith says the broad accessibility of the policy unlocks a “sustainable, scalable, and truly globally equitable” benefit, and has enabled the company to solve for many scenarios at once.

“I thought about all the very many different things that our team has asked for support on over the last few years, and then I also thought about all of my friends, my family, about all the many different times in their lives that they’ve found themselves in a really tricky position because they’ve needed access to healthcare and there’s been something in their way to get it,” she explains.

“It’s not limited to that list of things, it’s pretty much anything. We just thought about all of the examples and things that we’ve heard about over the years and that we want to make sure our team know they’ve got permission to put their hand up and say they need extra support.”

 

Depleting personal leave buckets

Throughout the pandemic, Smith says the organisation noticed employees were using their annual leave differently because “they weren’t going anywhere”.

“People had just made this association between annual leave as being holidays – so actually going somewhere and doing something – and then we saw personal leave or sick leave getting used up because people were just really worn out,” she says.

“We just saw people kind of throwing themselves into their work.”

In the same vein, Smith says there was no equitable approach to annual leave during the pandemic, because where some employees could accumulate leave like a “bank balance”, others who had caregiver roles needed to use their allowance to accommodate for increased responsibility during the pandemic.

After having conversations across the organisation, Who Gives A Crap found that its teams therefore needed more support and “more permission to take time out”, she adds.

“We then kind of saw [the life leave policy] as, ‘what if we could get people to really look at it as a proactive way to look after themselves, not just a reactive [approach]?’.

“So, we spent just as much time talking about how people could use the time in a proactive way to look after themselves to avoid sickness down the line, or burnout, or feeling like you’re just completely out of balance in your life.

“We landed on ‘life leave’ as the title because it was just all the stuff that happens in life.”

 

Reducing employees’ travel and accommodation barriers

With some medical treatments unavailable to employees in every region, Smith says Who Gives A Crap also intends to cover transport and accommodation costs where applicable.

By way of example, she says: “I thought of friends of mine who have flown for IVF treatment because they had a condition that required a specialist to look at it. They’re thousands of dollars out of pocket for something just because they’re not down the road from them.

“It’s not even the treatment itself that they’re spending money on, it’s just trying to get there.”

This financial assistance is also applicable to employees acting as a support person for a family member or friend undergoing treatment.

“That was off the back of this recognition for our role in our community. We don’t have a huge team compared to a lot of organisations out there, so whilst we really hope that this would be a benefit that could really have a positive impact on a lot of people’s lives, it still sort of kept it pretty small and pretty remote,” she says.

“So… to have it there as a support role as well, as if it were for personal care, is our commitment to support our community.”

 

Article originally published on hrdaily.com.au