New work assignment: Go on a vacation

  

Work embargoes on breaks become mandatory as companies recognize employees who enjoy their annual leave are happier and more productive 

Last year, a survey by travel company Expedia revealed that Indian employees rarely take breaks and 94% even check email while on holiday. Today, companies are asking their workforce to bring the same diligence to vacationing.

Pepper Square, a Bangalore-based digital agency with over 70 employees, issues a work embargo when staff is on leave, ensuring they have zero communication with clients or the workplace. Taking annual leave is mandatory, and only in rare cases is the vacationing employee disturbed. "Initially, this policy sometimes did affect client communication, but now we are eleven years old and process oriented, so glitches don't happen," says Muki Regunathan, founder & CEO of the firm whose employees' average age is 26 years.Last year, a survey by travel company Expedia revealed that Indian employees rarely take breaks and 94% even check email while on holiday. Today, companies are asking their workforce to bring the same diligence to vacationing.

Pepper Square, a Bangalore-based digital agency with over 70 employees, issues a work embargo when staff is on leave, ensuring they have zero communication with clients or the workplace. Taking annual leave is mandatory, and only in rare cases is the vacationing employee disturbed. "Initially, this policy sometimes did affect client communication, but now we are eleven years old and process oriented, so glitches don't happen," says Muki Regunathan, founder & CEO of the firm whose employees' average age is 26 years.
 

While employees in Europe are known to take their vacations seriously, egged on by global practices adopted by India Inc, the scene here too is slowly changing. Companies across diverse industries and sizes are recognizing that employees who enjoy their annual leave are happier and more productive. Many have or are working on processes to ensure that employees take leave, intruding on this downtime only in an emergency. Companies are getting smarter in devising ways to prompt employees to avail of annual leave. "At a policy level there is a restriction on the number of days that employees can carry forward or encash their leave. This ensures that employees avail of leave in the calendar year. At a process level, superiors encourage team members to take planned leave and a formal tracking is carried out at periodic intervals," says Ravishankar B, chief people officer and EVP, Mindtree. 

RPG Group of Companies amended their policies and no longer permit regular leave encashment of annual leave, whereas at SAP Labs, encashment is possible only when the employee is leaving the company. Some businesses generate excitement around annual leave. "Interesting and adventurous vacation ideas are featured on our internal forums to spark interest," says Arvind Agrawal, president-HR, RPG Enterprises. SAP Labs India rewards its longstanding employees via vacations. "Those who complete 10 years with us are gifted Rs 30,000 as a vacation package and 10 days of special paid leave. Employees who complete 15 years, get Rs 50,000 as a vacation package and 10 days of paid leave," says T Shivaram, vice-president, HR, SAP Labs India, adding that this leave or vacation packages cannot be encashed. 

Indian laws under various governing regulations prescribe the minimum amount of leave that a company or factory must provide, but that's about it. "We are still to come across companies which categorically state in their HR policy that there will be a work embargo during the annual leave period," admits Anand Mehta, partner, Khaitan & Co, a law firm. "Interestingly, Reserve Bank of India has in 2011 instructed all private and foreign banks to implement a mandatory leave requirement for employees across all levels. 

This was done to facilitate peer reviews of their work during their absence and curb malpractices," adds Mehta. At Pepper Square, downtime isn't limited to the annual vacation. "At times, if we see someone suffering from a burn-out we counsel them to take a mini 10day break," adds Regunathan. Employees at firms like Pepper Square may clock more time off in a year than serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist K Ganapathy Subramanian has in his entire career, spanning 22 years. He's only once taken a month off work. "For entrepreneurs, till the start-up stabilizes there is no rest," he claims. Echoing him is a partner of a management consultancy, who tends to spend most of his vacation time dealing with tele-conference calls or answering emails, while occasionally gazing at the spectacular sunset from the hotel suite balcony in Hawaii. 

Even a 25-year-old team leader at a KPO remains plugged in while on leave, else he wouldn't feel important. "Stiff competition often prompts an employee to stay connected," says Sunil Goel, MD, Global Hunt.

In these changing times, these workaholics may have no choice but to break from their past.