Work, rest and pay

Wragge & Co now offers its employees the chance to take a week of unpaid leave. Wendy Morrison explains

Wragge & Co’s unpaid leave scheme, introduced by senior partner Quentin Poole in April 2003, has proved such a success that the original 12-month period has been extended to December 2004.

Poole said that his firm had a reputation for putting its people first and the unpaid leave scheme “fits perfectly” with this philosophy. “People were telling us that they would welcome the option to take extra leave should they want or need it, so we gave it to them,” said Poole.
Prior to the scheme, discretionary additional leave was granted depending on circumstances. We thought that replacing this ad hoc system with a firmwide standard would be a great idea.”

With work-life balance very much in vogue, the added flexibility afforded by the scheme has been well received. Giving people the chance to buy extra time off has proved a popular innovation. Partners are excluded from the scheme, but the remaining 900 or so staff, both full and part-time, are able to extend their annual leave allowance by up to five days.

Of course, the nature of the unpaid scheme means that this extra week comes at a slight financial cost to the individual. This, however, has not prevented 129 people from taking advantage of it. Corporate associate Helen Cooksley said: “I welcome any opportunity to have more holiday so I wasn’t too bothered about swapping pay for time off.”

Corporate tax associate Neil Pearson said he thought it was “brilliant” that it was possible to buy extra time off. “It gives you loads of flexibility, especially if you’ve got family commitments and you’ve run out of holiday,” said Pearson. “I spent my time whizzing down the slopes in Switzerland on a nice romantic break with my wife, which a couple of day’s pay could never compete with.”

According to figures compiled by the HR team, the unpaid leave scheme is equally popular with fee-earners, secretarial and support staff, with
take-up evenly split between the three groups. Like Neil, the majority of people taking unpaid leave have used it to take a day off here and there, although a few have added a full five consecutive days to their annual entitlement.

The scheme has also found favour among those who have not taken advantage of it. Real estate associate Paul Knight said: “It’s a good idea to give people the opportunity to perhaps have an extended holiday or take time for a sport or interest without having to compromise their professional development.”

Neil Pearson added that he had used the scheme in part because he wanted to show his support for the scheme. “I didn’t want to say it was a fantastic idea and then not make use of it.”

At the moment the unpaid leave scheme is for a fixed duration. Depending on a number of factors, including feedback on the current scheme, a further extension may be considered.

Wendy Morrison is director of professional development at Wragge & Co