Paid leave

2003

A third of companies offer employees guaranteed or discretionary paid leave to get married while 4 in 10 (42 per cent) give paid time off for moving house.

On average, according to a survey of over 250 UK organisations by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, staff are given two days' leave for marriage and one day to move house in addition to their normal holiday entitlement. More prevalent is additional paid leave for family emergencies. Over half (56 per cent) of the companies surveyed give guaranteed time off for a death in the family, while the rest (44 per cent) operate their policy on a discretionary basis.

In cases of serious family illness, a fifth (20 per cent) of companies provide paid leave automatically and more than half (55 per cent) do so at management's discretion. In both instances of family emergencies, employees are entitled to up to five days off work.

David Wreford, European principal at Mercer, said: "Companies are legally obliged to offer unpaid leave only for family emergencies. Generous entitlements are often used as a retention tool and to show staff the firm is willing to be flexible."

Sabbaticals
Of the organisations surveyed, only 6 per cent allow staff to take time off to go on a sabbatical.

Mr Wreford explained: "Sabbaticals are used by organisations in different ways. For example, they are a long-standing benefit in the public sector, especially in education, while the hi-tech sector used them a couple of years ago to enhance staff retention."

He added: "Employers have used sabbaticals as an alternative to redundancy at a time when they thought the economy had taken a temporary dip. Now they realise it's more of a fall, and longer-term solutions are needed."

"It's quite difficult for companies to implement and manage sabbaticals. What at first seems an attractive benefit to offer soon becomes a less palatable option for employers."

Holidays
The survey found that average holiday entitlement ranges from 23 to 25 days depending on employee level. In two-thirds (67 per cent) of organisations, extra entitlement is given for years of service.

"Rewarding service with extra holiday is a traditional approach that appears to be declining in popularity," said Mr Wreford. "More employers are now realising that long service doesn't necessarily equate with enhanced performance."

He added: "Given the Government's intention to outlaw age discrimination from 2006, it's possible that benefits related solely to length of service, such as extra holiday, will be regarded as indirectly discriminatory and unlawful."

Holidays can be carried over to the following year in two-thirds (66 per cent) of companies, half of which (33 per cent) operate the benefit on a discretionary basis. The remaining companies (34 per cent) do not offer this benefit, most likely because 'banking' holiday entitlement can be difficult to manage.

According to the survey, 4 in 10 companies (41 per cent) specify when some of the basic holiday entitlement must be taken. Of these, the median number of days stipulated for all staff levels is three.

"Whether companies say when holidays must be taken depends on the industry. Manufacturers, for example, will generally close between Christmas and New Year," said Mr Wreford.

He added: "What we're now seeing is a pull the other way, where companies offer a year-round service and expect their staff to work public holidays."