Marge Mantjie, Gcobisa Ntshona, and Dolores Mashishi on managing leave liability

HR leaders from Alexander Forbes, LexisNexis, and Altron say the trick is to get buy-in from employees.

With employers being forced into cost-containment mode, leave is one of the seemingly low-hanging fruits for organisations to grab as an avenue for avoiding salary reductions or retrenchments. That said, employees are legally entitled to their leave days and it can be difficult to force them to take it.

LexisNexis HR director Gcobisa Ntshona says working from home under the lockdown restrictions has added a unique dimension in the way that people take leave. 

Says Gcobisa: “It's important for organisations to encourage their employees to take leave during this period as it has multiple benefits. The first being the reduction of leave liability sitting on the balance sheet, secondly to limit the potential of having to many people applying for leave at the same time once lockdown restrictions preventing leisure travel have been lifted and finally and most importantly ensuring that people are able to balance WFH with other demands such as homeschooling or looking after our loved ones at home.”

Marge Mantjie, head of HR at Alexander Forbes Investments division says leave during Covid-19 is a tricky topic because, while leave liability is an exorbitant cost that can significantly improve the bottom line if reduced, it can be difficult to motivate people to take their leave. 

“Especially now that they are already working from home and can't really travel for leisure. In most cases, the default stance among employees is that there is no necessity for taking leave, so it was very interesting to hear how Altron is having that conversation and I'll definitely be taking a page or two from their book."

At Altron, they seem to have been able to make it work, with employees even volunteering to donate their leave days. Altron group executive for human capital Dolores Mashishi says that they were able to come to a compromise because the way they positioned their proposal was to start by looking at Lockdown level 5, which lasted about 35 days and suggest that the employees 'share the pain' with the organisation by taking half of those days as leave because they were not working in any case. 

"The organisation bore the brunt of the other 17 or so days. It was only after that when one employee suggested that those with many leave days donate them. The fact that the idea came from employees enabled us to get buy-in from the whole organisation," says Dolores.

Describing the process of how they arrived at the favourable outcome, Dolores says they first looked at the elements of how the pandemic would affect employees 

"That's how we arrived at the principles upon which our response would be based. The first principle was that we need to be able to comply with the legislation. The second was that we needed to ensure the sustainability of the organisation so that we still have a company on the other side of the pandemic. Thirdly, we had to be honest with our employees about the financial situation of the organisation and thus explain to them the sacrifices that would have to be made by all, especially if we don't want to arrive in a position where we have to have retrenchments.”