I touched on this, in part, a couple of months ago as firms began to re-open following Christmas. As the world learns to ‘live’ with COVID and boarders re-open, both nationally and internationally, there appears to be a real sense of spreading our wings and travelling again, particularly abroad and particularly for those who have either immigrated to Australia from another country or have family oversees.

This really hit home for me a couple of weeks ago when I was sitting in one of my favourite restaurants, chatting with staff. Two of the long term personnel have migrated to Australia from Eastern European countries. Both have been in Australia, and at this restaurant, for many years. However, both were talking with some avid excitement about their upcoming trips back home to visit family and friends. Each are taking leave of two months, intersecting each. Neither have been able to get home for over two years now, so you would forgive them for wanting to take some extended time away. However, as I sat there listening to their plans, I also thought, “wow, how is this going to impact upon the restaurant”? Now, no-one is irreplaceable, however both of these staff play an important role in the day to day success of the business.

Another example of this was watching, via Facebook, a friend and her Aussie based family take a trip to the UK and Europe where they have immediate and extended family. This friend of mine also remarked how this was the first time in over two and half years that she, her husband and three grown children were able to all be in the same room.

These are just two examples, however their significance was not overlooked. As we head into the northern summer and autumn, these months are some of the most popular to visit and travel through Europe. However, what I found myself pondering was, “what would happen if a similar mass exodus took place in firms”? “What would happen if 20%, 25%, or dare I say it, 50% of our personnel within our firms all wanted to take extended leave at the same time”? For our professions, particularly those in accounting firms, I would imagine this could be rather dire.  

That said, can we really stop it? Can we decline the application for leave from a reasonable proportion of our personnel? Now, I can’t speak from a legal HR perspective, however my gut feel, is probably not. What’s the alternative? Grant leave or risk having the staff member resign? Could the repercussions be that significant? Perhaps! If we think for a moment what our professions, the firms, the principals and their staff have endured over the past couple of years, we are hearing from the HR experts about the need to manage burn out, about a greater need for work / life balance, about the re-evaluation by personnel about the important aspects of their careers, and so on. Many are believed to be reassessing their careers and futures.

However, we know there are some crucial periods throughout the year where we need the full, or close to full, complement of personnel, particularly in the accounting profession. So, how can this be managed? It’s worth some careful consideration and perhaps some discussions or advice from the experts, whether they be in-house or external to your firm. For example, does the firm have periods throughout the year when staff are unable to take leave? Are there periods, such as Christmas, where staff are mandated to take leave? Does your firm place limits on how many personnel can be on leave at once? Are there limitations on the length of leave that can be taken? How much notice is required to take leave and does this vary in accordance with the length of leave to be taken?

Now, please don’t take these questions as recommended approaches. As mentioned, I would suggest you consult with the HR experts. However, as I pondered the potential impact mass leave applications could have on firms, particularly those finding it difficult to recruit or replace staff presently, it highlighted a need to be proactive and be out in front of this potential issue with some clear management processes and procedures in place to hopefully limit any dramatic impact upon our firms. Moreover, I have a sense this issue will not be limited solely to this year, it’s something likely to remain for at least the short to medium term, so planning is definitely the key.

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