Since implementing its innovative discretionary time off (DTO) leave policy in January last year, SilverBridge Holdings has reported an overwhelming positive reception from staff resulting in employees better balancing their work and personal lives.
Ruth Wotela, People Wellness Executive at SilverBridge Holdings, says the organisation introduced the policy that provides unlimited paid leave to reflect how the business focuses on an output-driven approach as opposed to being time-driven. The policy also promotes a more agile way for working through self-organising teams.
“One of the practical and biggest learnings from implementing an organisational change such as this was the importance of change management. The effective application of the DTO leave policy requires a different mindset, trust within the team to not abuse the policy, increased responsibility and accountability from individuals and teams, and effective communication within teams,” she says.
New way of thinking
Prior to implementing the DTO, SilverBridge underwent a lengthy process to ensure the new policy would not infringe on any employee’s individual rights and that it got buy-in from its employees. This was achieved through a consultative process between management and employees to clarify the intent of the policy and proposed process, on a one-on-one, team and company basis.
“Initially, employees were sceptical but with management being open to questions, comments, and any concerns raised, employees had a reasonable level of comfort. One can never underestimate the importance of taking time to have conversations with individuals directly impacted by such a proposed change, even if it meant delaying the implementation.”
After six months of implementing the DTO policy, feedback from a SilverBridge employee survey indicated that 90 percent of staff viewed and experienced it positively. A recent follow-up survey confirms that this is still the case for 95 percent of its employees, with some highlighting this to be one of the best policies and retention factors the organisation has.
“Unlimited leave enables our employees to no longer miss out on special events in their personal and family lives and take time to recharge without the restrictions of limited leave days. Our employees are taking more leave than before, which is what we wanted. On average, they are taking eight more leave days per year than before.”
Making it work
Traditional leave policies generally give employees a set number of leave days each year, and leave taken is normally approved by the direct manager. The SilverBridge DTO leave policy does away with the limitations of traditional fixed leave and lets its employees take time off when it suits them, with the understanding that they need to fulfil their duties as expected from them.
There is no limit to how much leave an employee takes as long as this has been approved by the team. The manager’s role is to facilitate this process if there are disagreements or perceived unfairness and escalate this if unresolved.
Previously, the manager would approve an individual’s leave without any obligation to inform the rest of team. In several instances, this had a negative impact on the team’s deliverables. Individuals often took leave without prior notice to the team. There was little opportunity for the team to evaluate the dependences within it as well as the impact of the individual taking leave, which made it difficult for the team to plan and reorganise themselves proactively.
“The DTO leave approval process addresses these challenges. An individual that plans to take leave informs his/her team, the team evaluates their deliverables, deadlines and impact of having the individual on leave, and then decides as a team. That decision can be approving the leave request as is or re-negotiating the time or duration of the leave requested which could mean shortening or postponing the requested leave.”
In cases of unplanned leave (such as sick leave or family responsibility leave), the individual has a responsibility to notify the team as soon as possible and that way the team can act accordingly. This provides more visibility of leave taken within the team, as well as encouraging shared responsibility and accountability for the team’s deliverables. This enables teams to prioritise and organise themselves effectively in order to meet their objectives.
However, there are still some teams struggling with the practical application of the DTO in certain instances. This demonstrates the importance of continuing to assist employees with the process.
“We allow our employees to determine their working hours and how much time they take off, as long as they meet their objectives. Unfortunately, the increased flexibility and limited rules applied with the DTO leave policy causes some uneasiness amongst a few people who would like us to have a fixed and limited leave policy,” she says.
Despite this, Wotela says most of the SilverBridge employees appreciate the flexibility of managing time spent in their work and personal life. Introducing this leave policy has also encouraged better communication and accountability within teams, as well as bringing to light some of the underlying issues within teams which would not have normally surfaced.
“We have seen more teams have the necessary difficult conversations especially when a team member is not pulling their weight. There is clearly more focus on outcomes, quality, and targets set than on time spent in the office. We have encouraged employees to acknowledge that with flexibility comes responsibility. Each employee has a right to take time off but is also responsible to ensure that they and their team meet the agreed objectives.”
SilverBridge is continuously having conversations with employees and evaluating the policy to ensure that its employees and the broader organisation benefit from it.
SilverBridge has over 20 years’ experience as a leading provider of insurance software solutions in the African financial services industry. Our footprint extends to 13 African countries. SilverBridge has introduced an enhanced service offering allowing financial services companies the opportunity to respond quickly to changing markets. With more than 30 customers throughout Africa, SilverBridge has the knowledge, experience, and technology to help its clients do better business.