HKBN introduces ‘buy one get one free’ bonus leave scheme
Ivy Lau says new initiative provides up to extra 10 days off a year
Recognising that its employees will want, or need, to take varying amounts of time off in different years, Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) introduced a bonus leave scheme in January. Under its terms, 'talents' - as HKBN employees are known - are able to exchange one day's average salary for two days extra annual leave.
Ivy Lau, director of talent engagement and co-owner of HKBN, explains what inspired this initiative and how she foresees it working.
At HKBN, we always say that talent comes first. Each year, we think about new and innovative ways to engage our people. The trend is always towards giving them more choice and greater flexibility, and something that is tailored to their personal needs.
We don't talk about work-life balance, but about life-work priority, where life comes first. It is our CEO's motto - health then family then work, in that order. The response from our talent to the other schemes we have introduced has been good. We have a "no email on weekends or vacations" policy, one of the initiatives I like best. We also have some flexi-hours, so for example, people can start work later if they need to.
At important festivals, everyone gets an extra half-day’s leave. Last December, there were three of these. We also have anniversary leave, so people who joined the company in, say, January, get a day off that month. And on a designated Friday every month, you can leave the office at 4pm and there are no meetings scheduled on those afternoons.
This year, we have been talking about giving our talent more free time. We paid a discretionary bonus in December and we thought it might be a good idea for our people to buy more leave when they need it.
In a particular year, you might need it for your family, your kids, or for your own studying, but you probably would not need it in another year. So we thought: why not give them the choice and let them decide when they need it and how many days they need?
In this pilot stage, we are inviting our people to apply for up to five-plus-five days of leave. If you have a normal annual leave allowance of 20 days, then this year you could take up to 30 days. We are calling it, "Buy one, get one free."
We know people are talking about it and we have seen people posting about it on Facebook. We don't have any confirmed numbers yet, but we did have four or five immediate inquiries when we announced it and I have received a lot of comments from our people saying they appreciate being given this choice. They say they don't know when they will need this leave but, when they do, they will treasure the opportunity.
I think we will see some peak seasons though, such as school-term breaks and exam periods.
I have also had a lot of enquiries from my friends who work in HR at other companies. They have asked me questions like, "Why are you doing that?", "Can I copy it?" and "What are the challenges?"
It may seem easier if you are a big company, because you have people to back up the different roles and positions, but small companies can be more flexible. If your company is dynamic enough, and the delegation and team collaboration is good enough, you can let your people go away for a while. It's all about planning, prioritising and utilising your manpower wisely.
If you are unable to plan ahead and allow your people some more leave then you have to worry about what would happen if some contingency arose.
Results and Plans
We will probably review the whole scheme after a year and see if there is anything we need to look out for, such as a peak season, or if there is any fine-tuning needed. We don't put a dollar sign on every talent-engagement initiative, but we can see this will add up to improved loyalty and better retention. We've had working mums who've been forced to resign for a while because of issues at home that make it impossible for them to work in a full-time capacity and this scheme will help us to retain them.
We always talk about putting our talent first, because if they are happy they will take good care of our customers and our stakeholders – and everybody will be happy.
When people take this leave, there will be some salary saving on the bottom line and we believe productivity will not be affected.
As told to John Brennan