Scrapping the Leave Policy  

Nishith Desai

Happy New Year!!!

We have some goodies.

We are casting off our firm’s Leave Policy.

Certainly, we are not the first organization in the world to do so. Inventive corporations like Netflix, Virgin, and several anomalous ones have already shed their prescriptive ‘Annual Vacation’ entitlements, leaving the decision to take leave, how much of it and when, to their employee.

We are following suit, by design.

Starting today, all our talent with over 1000 days at the firm, shall be free to take their own calls on what, why, when, how much and how they may take their time off. There will be no compliance-seeking pre-set policy line that they need to toe.‎ We will simply provide a guide on 'Freedom with Responsibility'.

In their first 1000 days i.e. three years, we would mentor developing talent to inculcate 'freedom with responsibility'‎ and time management. By 2020, we plan to be fully driven by such a culture and seek to phase out the leave policy for all.

We trust our people. We believe, as responsible, trustworthy and competent professionals, each of them is considered able enough to chart their own course of action on their time away from work. They can organize their leave in a manner that best fits their personal and professional needs - and least unsettles their deliverables, clients and colleagues.

How would self decisions be made?

The only considerations they are encouraged to make are: one, how their absence will impact their colleagues and clients – and plan accordingly; and two, if they have a complex problem, they should consult some wiser person, and then take a call.

In other words, even without a rule-book, we trust our people will look up and collaborate with those who are connected to their work, and ensure the ends are achieved. We rely on them to ultimately fulfil their professional responsibilities, notwithstanding their absences.

Still, you may ask, would scrapping a common framework not be audacious and risky? Yes.

Then why take the plunge? Simple. Every experiment is risky but not experimenting is even riskier.

This initiative precipitates our transformative agenda. As we steer towards a networked organization anchored in self-management, responsibility and accountability, this tiny step can catalyze a big ‘mindset’ change.

We believe, if a professional is passionately in pursuit of a ‘calling’ and a life’s purpose, then extraordinary commitment, excellence and reliability is implicit. Where then lies the need to direct, stipulate, and even less, police those very people who are now self-driving to their highest potential?

For we all know, the next-generational landscape of work and workforce is a giant discontinuity from the past. Going for a ‘no-policy’ on leave would reach the ‘hearts’ of people and improve their work ethos. This ‘liberty’ to self-determine leave, shall heighten morale, creativity and productivity. Alongside, it will fan a culture of 'responsible freedom'.

Even contemplating such a step in a law firm - or any high value professional services enterprise, for that matter – may sound radically contrarian to the way we have driven our operating model so far. But in a professional services firm it should be easier- if it's not, where is the professionalism?

So, “not having a leave policy” may be uprooting habit, long-held perspective and mindset‎. But looking back, for almost two decades, I see professional firms have maintained assiduously detailed, formula-based leave policies, approval and tracking systems, and meticulous leave records tallied back to assess productivity, discipline and performance. Much administrative and management time has gone into churning and cogitating over data, rather than ‎focusing on value creation for the clients.

Frankly though, do we really have an authentic grip on and insight into why an individual is soaring with performance results? When does this person contribute? How does that quality come about?

My precept is simple: he or she knows best. All other elaborate systemic instruments to uncover the essence of a performance, would fall short. Let that person then navigate the path that fulfils him or her best, where every moment at work is about accomplishment and happiness.

And the upsides do not stop there.

With one sweep, we are simplifying and weeding out an outmoded time-and-bandwidth guzzling procedure. And by doing so and offering freedom, we are egging every professional to think and act with inner rightness, intently, sensibly and responsibly.

As it is, in a profession that is ready round the clock to mitigate complex problems of our clients, there is little correlation between the leave policy, and how the professional avails it. Invariably, he or she does what is needed and in the client’s best interests.Now, if our talent take leave, they will consider the purpose of it, and use it wisely.

Even if it is for an entirely personal goal, it will still be grist to the mill of self-development, well-being or fulfilment. When there is no compulsion or boundary, it will bring back to work a rejuvenated, committed and inspired person.

Now, let’s leave ‘leave’ aside, and put our finishing touches on the “Guidance to our ‘Responsible Freedom’ Culture“, shall we?



As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.