A significant side-effect from COVID-19 for organisations revolves around leave. Because the pandemic has caused strict lockdown and border restrictions (both nationally and internationally) and increased workloads - especially for those working in the built environment industry - many employees haven’t taken all of their allocated leave. However, this might all be about to change following on from the easing of restrictions late last year and the Australian borders opening up in time for Christmas and the New Year. In the last few months, the federal government have made considerable first steps to Australia’s international reopening plan, by establishing travel bubbles with New Zealand, Singapore, Korea and Japan. And as of December, fully-vaccinated eligible visa holders were be able to return to Australia  (Visentin, L. 2021). States across Australia also eased their border restrictions in time for Christmas; the first time some states had done so in many months.
Now with summer and international holidays back on the cards and visa holders allowed to visit their families, leave applications are expected to skyrocket. Data released by market research company Roy Morgan in May showed eight million workers in paid employment now have 14.9 million days of annual leave due. This is an almost 16% increase from the beginning of 2020 prior to the pandemic outbreak (Dexter, R. 2021). However, experts believe the accrued leave will have grown even bigger since May with both Sydney and Melbourne experiencing months of strict lockdowns in winter last year. According to behavioural scientist Aaron McEwan from global research and advisory firm Gartner now that we can finally travel ‘there is a lot of people that are going to cash in their leave and take it' (Sharples, 2021). And while this is welcome news for individuals, what are the implications for organisations? The expected onslaught of leave requests over the next year will have considerable impacts on productivity levels for organisations across multiple industries. Consequently, Design & Build have provided some tips below to help organisations prepare for the impending ‘leave pandemic’.
While it’s important to allow employees downtime over the holidays - especially considering many haven’t had much opportunity to over the year – organisations need to be able to balance these needs with the needs of the organisation and ensure they can still function effectively. Within Australia, all full-time and part-time employees are entitled to 4 weeks of annual leave while shift workers may get up to 5 weeks of annual leave per year depending on the agency and industry they work for. Under the Fair Work Act, an employer cannot unreasonably refuse to authorise an employee’s request to take annual leave (Fair Work Ombudsman , 2021). Consequently, there are key considerations to make before approving (or declining) each leave request. The first port of call is to review your organisation’s leave policy and ensure it clearly sets out notice periods and how leave requests will be approved in writing. Having a policy in writing will help you resolve disputes if and when they arise. It’ll also provide guidance to managers who may be unsure how to handle particular requests. The challenge here is establishing a policy that will serve the operational needs of the organisation while still supporting the welfare of its staff. When setting or reviewing their leave policy, managers and leaders should consider how much notice staff are required to give. If they anticipate a period where multiple staff are wanting to take time off (e.g. school holidays) a requirement of their leave policy could be to ask employees to give more notice when requesting leave over that set period.
Another great tactic for organisations reviewing their leave policy is to send out a survey to staff leading up to any holiday period, asking employees when/if they intend to take leave over the next six months or so. This will give management a clearer picture of the number of requests they’ll expect to receive and prepare for them accordingly. A survey will also provide more transparency around who is planning to go away when. This makes it easier for teams to coordinate with each other regarding leave. Employees who are parents are probably keen to have time off during school holidays, while younger employees might be more flexible around dates and willing to take holidays outside of the peak season to save money. By encouraging your teams to collaborate and cover each other’s holidays (where possible) you’re ensuring operational requirements are met while providing an end solution everyone in the team is happy with.
Once your leave policy has been established, it must be clearly communicated across the organisation. Make sure everyone has access to a copy of the organisation’s leave/holiday policy. Furthermore, to avoid confusion and ensure every leave request is handled fairly and equally, organisations should settle on a single channel for submitting leave requests – whether this be via an online platform, emailing the HR department, pen and paper etc. No matter the system, it’s important that it can easily communicate in writing the progress of a leave request and be accessed by all employees. This prevents miscommunication and also leaves a clear paper trail if there’s a dispute.
If you anticipate multiple staff to be on leave at the one time, or are experiencing a particularly busy period and require extra resources (e.g. the end of financial year) it might be worth hiring contract and casual workers to alleviate strains on your remaining team members and ensure overall output isn’t impacted significantly.
When contemplating hiring additional contract and casual staff, the following steps can help:
1. Even before formulating a job description, posting ads or reaching out to recruiters, it’s important to forecast; to predict the amount of extra staff your team or department will need, based on leave requests (your survey results can be a great tool for this) and the projected work demand or project pipeline. For example, if a number of important projects share the same deadline, or your organisation has a number of events coming up, this will impact how many casual staff need to be hired. When forecasting it’s also important to consider the skill level of remaining staff – do they have the ability to take over workloads of those going on leave or will there be critical skill gaps in a person’s absence. This will help an organisation to focus on the specific skillsets they’ll need to recruit for.
2. Once you’ve established the number of people you’ll need to hire, and more importantly the skills and functions they’ll need to cover, you can start creating job advertisements and reaching out to your professional networks and recruitment agencies. It's also important to remember that when seeking new engagements a contractor may review multiple opportunities a day, and because of the shorter timelines, the available time a contractor has between ‘gigs’ (especially if they’re good at what they do) is minimal. Consequently, as an organisation, you need to be able to grab their attention effectively and efficiently. To stand out from the crowd, it’s important to clearly articulate what makes your contract opportunity worth their time. Job postings for contract positions should be precise and to the point and it’s important to try not to include a long list of rigid experience qualifications and responsibilities. This will make it easier for them to quickly assess whether the opportunity is a good fit and if so, motivate them to apply.
3. Finding talented contract workers - especially if it's for specific skills - takes time so it’s important to give yourself enough of a buffer between starting the recruitment process and when crucial projects need to be delivered or you require staff to start working. While it's not always possible, having an additional two or three weeks up your sleeve gives you a great safety net if it takes longer than anticipated to secure talent or someone drops out during the recruitment process. It also ensures you don't put additional strain on your remaining staff who may have increased their own workload to cover for absent staff and help to ensure overall productivity levels are maintained.
If your organisation anticipates that it will be short-staffed at any point in the year ahead, it can be beneficial to reach out to a recruitment organisation that specialises within your particular industry or deals with contract roles. Design & Build specialises in recruiting for the built environment industry and we have many consultants that work within the contract space. This focus has ensured our consultants have built strong relationships with a number of candidates and are well versed in what will and won’t draw talent to a contract role.
If you’re looking to fill a particular contract position or advice on whether contracting would work for your organisation, don’t hesitate in reaching out to our team.
You can reach us at:
Phone: (03) 8535 3100
 Visentin, L. (2021). Sydney, Melbourne To Reap Benefits From Return Of International Students, Skilled Workers. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/plan-to-be-back-on-campus-by-next-semester-government-tells-international-students-20211122-p59ax5.html
 Dexter, R. (2021). What Are We All Going To Do With All That Annual Leave Accrued During COVID? Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from: https://www.smh.com.au/national/what-are-we-all-going-to-do-with-all-that-annual-leave-accrued-during-covid-20210707-p587pm.html
 Sharples, S. (2021). The Great Sickie: Record Levels Of Accrued Leave To Bite Businesses.News.Com. Retrieved from: https://www.news.com.au/finance/work/at-work/the-great-sickie-record-levels-of-accrued-leave-to-bite-businesses/news-story/5b9979b37742b71f4683221ff0279967
Fair Work Ombudsman. (2021). Annual Leave. Australian Government. Retrieved from: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/leave/annual-leave
 Worknest. (2020). Christmas FAQs For Employers. Worknest. Retrieved from: https://worknest.com/blog/christmas-faq-for-employers/