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Health Leave (not just 'sick' leave)

Balance leave entitlements to be ‘sick’ by also offering employees ‘health leave’: time out to benefit the body and soul – health or meditation retreats, time to detox, take a hike, get that medical - leave that inspires health and wellbeing.

Photo of Ann Austin
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I invest a fair amount of energy in my health, I swim regularly, eat well and try to get good sleep. In twenty years of employment I can recall taking perhaps 4 days of sick leave. Employers should love people like me, I save them money! Many however think that I am being ‘ripped off’ – that I am missing out on some sort of entitlement to ‘be sick’. What if we turned that entitlement round, what if we actively encourage people to stay well, and offered a form of ‘health leave’.

It might work something like this: criteria for what constitutes acceptable ‘health leave’ offerings could be developed with employees, something like a ‘health leave menu’. I would imagine it includes things like health, yoga or meditation retreats, signing up for hikes or races, time for medical checks, cycling tours or pilgrimages on foot, detox / quit smoking camps etc. Bookings and receipts would be approved against the menu by line managers. Employees would be encouraged to share stories and photos of their health leave experience on the company intranet to encourage others to participate. Performance bonuses or bonuses for not using sick leave may include extended health leave offerings in lieu of cash. Those more cautious could offer this as a benefit based on tenure (though personally I think it sends a strong message that health matters for everyone if it is a standard part of the employment deal).

UPDATES (assumes knowledge of the original concept outlined below)

Thanks for all the feedback on the idea as described below and for the questions requesting refinement.  Having pondered the concept more, I think it is very important to offer it in a way that makes it accessible to all scale organisations.  I believe BUPA and some pioneer organisations could combine to make this possible.  Initially when I wrote the concept I imagined organisations operating independently to develop their health menus, in collaboration with employees.  Now however after all the great discussion, I think it would be far more powerful for an insurer (Bupa?) to work with a few pioneer organisations and IDEO to develop an industry accepted menu of health leave offerings that would qualify for either salary sacrificing or partial coverage through health insurance schemes.  Organisations could obviously choose to add to the menu but if there was an industry developed and financially subsidised 'base' this would be very powerful.  Organisations could then sign up to the 'BUPA Health Leave Offering' with all the hard work of determing what qualifies / how to assess claims etc having been sorted out centrally - this removes an ENORMOUS potential barrier because someone else has 'worked it out'.

I think the fastest way to have organisational take up is to offer it as a replacement to sick leave.   The pros and cons of this have been discussed at length in the last month on the IDEO site.  I think the major barrier to organisational take up may be reticence (perhaps naively) to providing 'extra' leave.  By renaming and re positioning sick leave as health leave, and having an industry developed menu you basically remove all barriers to take up for any organisation of any scale.

Bupa could further encourage organisations to sign on to the Health Leave challenge by running annual awards for greatest organisational take up of Health Leave.  "Winners' may receive some inhouse health offerings to provide for their people, plus obvious media exposure.  Bupa could also offer companies that sign on a 'launch' event at the organisation including well known figures who clearly maintain their health (either elite athletes or other public figures who really model prevention) and data about the impact of staying well physically and mentally on work and life in general.

Ultimately, there may also be a viable fee based business opportunity for Bupa to offer to process people's health leave applications for organisations with insufficient HR processes in place.


What are the benefits of your concept for the individual and the employer?

This type of offering would be an enormously powerful recruitment and retention incentive for an employer, as well as encouraging a level of well-being that would result in greater performance. Many people already take these type of active holidays; this program would encourage those who do not to consider a different type of ‘break’ and facilitate the adopters to keep going. For the individual, there are clear benefits in taking time to focus on health for both body and soul that if offered regularly could literally change their lives.

What might the impact of your concept be and how might it be measured?

This concept will impact personal wellbeing and organisational recruitment, retention and performance. Personal wellbeing could be measured by perception surveys of those taking health leave, gathering data on the impact of the leave on regular healthy living practices like exercise, diet and absenteeism etc. The impact on recruitment, retention and performance could be assessed through organisational surveys assessing the importance of Health Leave in an individual’s decision to join / stay in an organisation and their perception of its impact on their performance. Uptake on the leave would also be measured to assess its appeal / value.

How might your concept be designed to scale and spread to reach as many people as possible?

I think an idea like this has the potential to receive media exposure which may encourage other organisations to adopt the practice. In addition, groups of like-minded organisations could ‘pledge’ to offer the leave entitlement as a sign of a shared commitment to well being. A significant way to encourage adoption of Health Leave would be for tax departments to offer deductions / salary sacrifice eligibility for approved ‘health leave’ expenses in recognition of the reduced impact of healthy people on public health systems.

How might you design a small experiment around your concept that would mobilise action?

A volunteer medium size section of an organisation could pilot this concept for around a year. Step one would be to analyse the type of leave experiences people have undertaken in the last year so that you could compare if the “health leave’ actually resulted in greater uptake of health related breaks.

Evaluation results

8 evaluations so far

1. Is this concept addressing clear health needs for users?

Indeed! It’s addressing an unmet need in a new way - 75%

Yep – it’s addressing a need but in an already crowded space - 0%

It’s not clear to see how this idea would significantly improve people’s health - 25%

2. Overall how do you feel about this concept?

This concept rocked my world - 50%

I liked it but prefered others - 37.5%

It didn't get my overly excited. - 12.5%

3. Does this concept feel like it could potentially be sustained as a business or movement over years rather than just months?  Does it feel like it will continue to be relevant in the future?

This concept has enough momentum to stand on its own two feet and remain relevant for years to come - 50%

It’s not clear how long it would take for this concept to stand on its own feet or how it will continue – but there’s reason to feel hopeful - 37.5%

This concept may have trouble sustaining itself in the long-run and stay relevant - 12.5%

4. How easy would it be for people to get involved and improve their health with this idea?

Very easy. It's clear how people could get involved quickly in this concept - 62.5%

I'm not sure if I can grasp how people could get involved easily - 12.5%

It seems challenging for people to get involved quickly in this concept - 25%

5. Does this concept have the potential to reach large numbers of people?

Sure. I could imagine this would spread like wild fire - 37.5%

It's interesting but feels like it would be slow or challenging to grow - 37.5%

It seems somewhat limited in scope - 25%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Hanna Kristiansen

Hi Ann!

Love your idea, I have a lot of examples where people I know has to "pull a sicky" when they just desperately just wanna be away from the office for one day and do active stuff in the sunshine or de-stress. How often is it gorgeous wheather all week long and when it finally comes to the weekend, it's suddenly a snow storm?!
Going to the beach for a swim and a surf when you are supposed to sit infront of the computer in the office, is not always about lazyness, most people make up for the missed work anyways.

In Sweden, almost every employer offers a wellness directed economic incentive around 2000 SEK. This is to be used on your sparetime on things and activities that contribute to the employees wellness. You can purchase a gymcard, a pare or joggers, a massage or pay for a membership fee in a sportsclub (some restrictions apply, golf card excluded etc), you save your reciept and the employer covers it!

However, I like your idea of separating health days from sick days, because of the change in statistics it provides to the employer. The employer will know if you are actually sick or not which might improve your HR related figures and outcomes. It is unfair if the HR departments good work with health in the work place is not shown in sick leave figures!

I will absolutely try to implement this idea in my future workplace. Being a health interested student in the HR field, I hope to improve future HR practices why this idea is superb to me!

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