Unpaid Leave | Asking for Unpaid Leave

unpaid leave

In today's modern society, it is increasingly common for employers to grant their employees a certain period of unpaid leave. This leave could be requested for a number of reasons including to care for a loved one, to travel or simply to take time out from work.
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Benefit of unpaid leave for employees

Long hours, highly stressed roles and busy lives can more often than not add up to what is often known as 'burn out'.

This in turn can have an extremely negative impact on the mental health of employees and taking time out is a common way to alleviate pressure, reduce stress and improve their quality of life.

Improved motivation upon return is also a key benefit of taking unpaid leave, along with feeling valued and trusted. Depending on what the time off is used for - employees may also find that they return to work with a new set of skills and experiences, which can enhance their work/life balance throughout the remainder of their working life.

Taking an agreed break from work is often a preferred alternative to having to resign from a job completely. It gives the employee an opportunity to assess their current situation and re-evaluate their plans for the future, without running the risk of certain unemployment.

Benefit of unpaid leave for employers

Employers are not in the habit of letting good quality staff go, therefore allowing a valued and experienced employee to take some time out when they need to, is a great way of retaining their skills to the benefit of the company.

Company policies increasingly contain an option for taking unpaid leave. This is because it is recognised that, in some circumstances, it is more beneficial to both the organisation and the individual, as opposed to losing that member of staff through resignation, sickness or resentment.

Granting unpaid leave and even including it within company policies, is proven to increase employee satisfaction and morale in the workplace, and case studies show that organisations which have a policy of considering all requests, benefit from a reduced level of sickness absence.

Unpaid leave can generally enhance retention, productivity and recruitment through demonstrating a commitment to the welfare of staff and it also helps support a learning culture within the organisation. All of this is very appealing to potential employees.

Improved commitment to the organisation from refreshed employees who return with a richer quality of experience is also an indirect benefit of granting unpaid leave.

So, what are the most common reasons for members of staff to ask for unpaid leave in the first place?

Unpaid leave in order to care for a child / relative

This is perhaps the most common reason for employees to ask for unpaid leave from work. Often, the usual holiday entitlements do not go far enough for those who are responsible for the care of a sick or disabled child, relative or loved one.
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Taking time out to learn a new skill

Some employees who have been doing the same job for many years, often feel that they have missed out on other skills or experiences that having several different jobs could have given them. This is a common reason for people to ask their employers for a career break. The time out can be used to undertake a training course or alternative job before the employee returns to work.

Unpaid leave to go travelling

Travelling the world is something that most people wish they could do at some point in their lives. The biggest obstacle to this is either lack of money or time due to work commitments. The good news is that more and more companies are aware of the growing need of many of their employees to travel the world and experience new things. Not only this, but many companies now actively encourage their staff to pursue their dreams and have put measures in place to help them.

Allowing a valued member of staff to take time out to fulfil a lifetime ambition, whilst offering them the opportunity to return to their work afterwards, is a popular alternative to forcing a frustrated or disgruntled employee to remain with the company.

To extend a maternity / paternity period

All women who leave work to have a baby are entitled to (paid) statutory maternity leave of around 26-39 weeks and fathers are now also entitled to some paid paternity leave too. However for some, particularly first time parents, this time is often not enough, so it is common for many of them to ask for additional unpaid leave on top of this.

Other personal reasons

It may be that time off is needed for a variety of personal reasons such as illness, bereavement or simply to re-assess employees attitudes to work and life. Whatever the reasons, they would need to be talked over with line managers and assessed on an individual basis.

How do you go about asking for unpaid leave?

When asking for time off there are certain approaches that you should take which could enhance the chances of getting that request approved.

These are:
  • Try to be as direct and honest as possible
  • Be clear as to the reasons behind your request
  • Demonstrate that you have thought about the consequences of taking unpaid leave for both the company and current colleagues
  • Suggest ways in which you believe your role could be covered in your absence
Remember, asking for unpaid leave is not uncommon and there are many advantages both to employees and employers. It can be the difference between an employer retaining or losing a valued member of staff as well as the difference between employee 'burn out' and job satisfaction, so don't be afraid to ask for it!
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