Long time, no fee

28-12-2004

Many clients are offering schemes where workers can buy back extra holiday.

The age-old phrase �time is money� may soon take on a new meaning for recruitment companies.

According to preliminary research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), many employers are letting staff buy back holiday time.

The study, set to be published in February, looked at 477 companies in the private and public sectors, which employ around 1.5m people. It found that 8% of employers now offer staff the opportunity to buy extra holidays.

Companies such as Nationwide, Lloyds TSB and Cadbury Schweppes are already offering cash-for-holiday schemes and London Underground staff recently negotiated a headline-grabbing 52 days� annual leave.

High street recruitment company Kelly Services recently conducted a nationwide office survey, which asked employees to rank a number of benefits in order of importance.

It found that employees are keen to take more holidays, with 57.5% of respondents seeing this as an important incentive. Gimmicky benefits such as loan of laptops and retail store discounts both scored relatively poorly, gaining approval from just 15% of respondents.

�A flexible holiday and benefits package is now standard in most finance, accountancy and law firms,� claims Charles Cotton, reward adviser for the CIPD. �Staff could choose to take this option and sacrifice a company car incentive.�

British employers work some of the longest hours in Europe and only get an average of 25 days of paid holiday a year, plus eight bank holidays. In France and Germany, employees enjoy about six weeks� holidays plus 11 bank holidays.

Richard Chiumento, chief executive of Rialto Consultancy, a business transition and HR consultancy, believes that employees want more short-term benefits to balance their home and work lifestyle. �There�s more emphasis now on having fun,� he says. �Employees, in particular those aged under 25, have seen their parents work long hours and in turn are not prepared to be led astray.�

Chiumento believes the current skills shortage is allowing candidates to be more sophisticated and choosy about what employers are able to offer. But he warns that incentives are in danger of getting out of hand.

�The traditional practice of an employee doing the job and enjoying it has been lost,� he says. �Employers are trying to solve the problem by throwing money at their staff. They feel they have to offer everything including the kitchen sink. But where do you draw the line?�

But Chris Herrmannsen, managing director of Hot Group�s recruitment consultancy division, doesn�t see the trend for staff buying back holidays being introduced to recruitment.

He says that in the recruitment industry it would be too expensive to allow the luxury of more time off.

�If consultants choose to spend more time away from work, this will simply lead to reduced revenue levels for the agency,� says Herrmannsen.

He contends that the industry hasn�t caught up with the bigger business methods of attracting top talent. �Recruitment companies have for too long relied on financial reward,� he says. �They are much more likely to offer something like a share scheme than the flexibility of time away from work.�

Kerrie Wiseman is director of permanent staffing company L&K Consultancy, which has recently employed a new member of staff on flexible working hours. She has mixed feelings on the subject of staff buying holidays in the recruitment industry, but admits it could help clients to tackle staff shortages.

�From my clients� perspective, in many cases it makes a good deal of sense,� she says. �My market sector is candidate-led, so anything they can do to attract and retain the best candidates is good. If it is cost neutral, as this should be, then so much the better.�

But she has reservations about the impact it could have on a keen sales environment. �Consultants need to be hungry for business. Even the loss of a single day can be a long time in recruitment,� she claims.

Perhaps 20 years ago, higher pay was the priority for the vast majority of workers. Now complaints are more likely to be about long hours than poor levels of pay.

Like it or not, recruitment agencies are likely to come under pressure to be flexible to staff requests to buy back some of that most precious and limited commodity: time.

Domenic Donatantonio
RECRUITER

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