Unlimited vacation days in UAE: Can more companies implement policy?

‘It encourages employees to take leave when they need it, which can lead to increased productivity and job satisfaction’

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Sahim Salim

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Published: Fri 24 Feb 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 24 Feb 2023, 5:56 PM

Companies in the UAE and around the world that have implemented an ‘unlimited’ annual leave policy report high levels of employee retention and better productivity. Though the concept of unlimited vacation days in the UAE is rare, it is feasible, experts have said.

“Prior to Covid-19, remote and hybrid working was rarely adopted, and now, flexible working models are more commonplace. In other countries, organisations in the technology sector seem to be successfully implementing it. This could work for multinational organisations in the tech sector in the UAE, too,” James Toye, a consultant at global recruitment agency Hays, told Khaleej Times.

Work-life balance and flexible working remain a priority for employees in the UAE. Toye stressed that unlimited vacation days can be a “valuable employee benefit” if implemented in a way that is “clear and fair to everyone”.

Happier employees, better productivity

Kai Sin Tan, director of Rewards and Benefits at Dubai-based super app Careem, said the company’s unlimited vacation days policy has boosted employee morale.

“We conduct an anonymous monthly survey and consistently find that our colleagues rate their job satisfaction and loyalty to Careem way above tech industry averages. There are a lot of different factors contributing to our colleague value proposition, but anecdotally, we know the unlimited leave policy is a key contributor to happiness for a significant number of colleagues,” he said.

Tan also mentioned that the policy gives the company a “competitive advantage” when it comes to recruiting talent. “One of the things we’re most proud of is Careem helping reverse brain drain from the region — that is, recruiting really talented people originally from the region who moved away to come back and help us build awesome tech here to serve the people of our region. A lot of these colleagues have friends, and in some cases, families living really far away, so the flexibility to travel to see them is a great benefit for them.”

Toye said the idea behind unlimited vacation days is to provide employees with more flexibility and autonomy over their work-life balance. “It's also intended to encourage employees to take time off when they need it, which can lead to increased productivity and job satisfaction.”

The Gen Z factor

Tarek Salam, head of Mena Expansion at global HR platform Deel, said millennials and Gen Z are both “purpose-driven generations that fundamentally think about jobs as opportunities to learn and grow”. “With flexible and remote working taking precedence, the concept of unlimited vacation days is growing in popularity … The policy can create a relationship of trust, ensure employees feel more in control of their non-working life and remove bureaucracy for the employer in overseeing leave arrangements,” said Salam.

Young workers are increasingly looking for more autonomy at work and unlimited vacation days contribute towards this as it offers increased flexibility and an improved work-life balance.

Tan highlighted how research shows that burnout is one of the quickest ways to kill peak performance and productivity. “We found that providing flexibility in when and where colleagues work makes them more effective and enables us to hire even more awesome talent from across the region.”

Employees are empowered to set ambitious targets that they take ownership for. “Colleagues are assessed against their individual and team goals and expected to manage their time off with this in mind.”

Employees are expected to think about what Careem needs from them when making their plans to go on leave. They are “trusted to make good decisions about when, and for how long they can take time away from their professional obligations”.

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