HSBC in Australia has trialled 'doona days', and 1400 of 1800 staff took one up

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Feel like calling in, pulling a sickie and burrowing back under the covers for the rest of the day?

You’re not alone. And many companies have come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t have to resort to faking illness just to take a day away from the daily grind of getting up, getting there and getting the work done.

In Australia, HSBC has just completed 12 months of what some call “doona days”, a wellness program which gives employees an extra day off, and no questions asked.

Corporate wellness programs have been shown to save companies money by reducing absenteeism and health costs, according to the latest research.

At HSBC, the human resources department has declared the trial a successs.

“We refer to them as a wellness day and they form part of our well-being proposition,” says HR head Paul Murphy.

“We’ve had a very good response. We started tracking it from October (2016) last year after we made a few tweaks to our payroll system to capture it, and we’ve had over 1400 who’ve taken it.”

That’s out of 1800 people across Australia.

“You don’t have to push your manager to take it,” says Murphy. “We want people to be able to take time out of the office. Whatever you do, that’s up to you. There is one wellness day per year to use and once you’ve been with HSBC for five years, you get three wellness days a year.”

The company in 2015 launched a well-being project which focused on a healthy mind, a healthy body, a healthy culture and a healthy place to work. There were onsite health checks, nutritional cooking classes, skin cancer checks and the odd massage.

“As our program evolved, we really wanted to make sure that our actual employee benefits aligned to supporting well-being,” says Murphy.

“We want people to feel they can take time out of the office and that they are supported by the organisation. It’s about our employees taking time out without feeling guilty about it.”

Generally, corporate wellness programs make for happier staff and as a consequence improve productivity, according to the latest research.

The numbers also work. The improvement is equal to an additional productive work day a month for the average worker. US research shows that for each dollar spent on wellness programs it saves $3.27 in health care costs and $2.73 in absenteeism.

“By showing concern for workers, organisations can strengthen employees’ loyalty and commitment to the company,” says researcher Timothy Gubler, an assistant professor of management at University of California, Riverside.

“When workers discover unknown health problems through the program they may feel increased gratitude toward their employer and reciprocate that by increasing their efforts.

“Additionally, when programs help employees make healthy choices this can positively impact their wellness, mood, energy, and ultimately increase their productivity through increased capability.”

In Australia, the number of companies offering that extra time off isn’t known. But it is certain that workers yearn for, and many are now getting, more time off.

According to recruiting experts Hays, 59% of Australians would like a job offering more than 20 days of annual leave, while 55% would like a day off work for their birthday.

Of the 1,118 people surveyed on the topic of employee benefits, 29% already get more than 20 days of annual leave and just 6% receive a day off for their birthday.

“Employees want benefits that are relevant and add value since salary increases are sedate,” says Nick Deligiannis, managing director of Hays in Australia and New Zealand.

The survey also found that 37% currently get access to health and wellness programs, 44% don’t but would like to and 19% don’t and are not interested.

According to work by Mercer in Australia, employee benefits directly influence the behaviour of staff and a company’s bottom line.

Organisations with very effective employee benefit plans have a lower employee turnover rate at 12%, compared to the general market at 15%.

Both voluntary and involuntary turnover is lower in these organisations. There are also generally more hours being worked, particularly by senior management where 43% typically worked more than 50 hours a week, compared to 25% across the market as a whole.

“On one level it’s simple, when employers give more they get more, but for real business impact, employers need to establish meaningful links between innovative benefits and the desired behaviour of their workers,” says Garry Adams, Mercer’s lead for talent business.

Mercer says additional annual leave works if it is granted after all annual leave is used up each year. This reduces leave liability on the balance sheet.

In New York, it’s common to have summer days where employees to finish earlier on a Friday during summer, increasing morale and goodwill as the company extends its weekend.

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