Starting a new job is inherently stressful. There’s often lots of new people to meet, processes to learn and office politics to navigate. It’s one of the reasons why many workers try to have a few days of holiday to get themselves in the right mindset between finishing one job and starting another. But all too often a new business wants you in as soon as possible and, wanting to make a good first impression, most people reluctantly agree.
SevenRooms, a CRM and guest-management software provider for the hospitality sector, is doing things differently. Rather than wanting to get new starters in quickly, it offers all new staff, regardless of location, role or seniority, two weeks of paid holiday leave up front.
The perk, called ‘Fresh Start’, doesn’t impact on other company benefits. All employees are immediately enrolled on a health insurance scheme and enjoy unlimited annual leave for the remainder of the year. New starters don’t have to complete any onboarding tasks either; the time is completely their own.
“Many new employees still only have a weekend between finishing their last role and beginning their new one,” says Paul McCarthy, SevenRooms’ chief people officer. “With no end in sight to the rising cost of living, many are under too much financial pressure to consider taking a break between jobs.”
The opportunity to take additional time before embarking on a new stage of their career — without the associated financial burden — means they’re able to engage in self-care to reset, spend time with family and friends, or reconnect with those who have influenced their lives for the better.”
Employees want better work/life balance
McCarthy says the policy is a reaction to the shift in attitudes to work/life balance that have occurred over the past few years and were accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A 2019 study by Harvard academics found 80% of large US employers now have a wellness policy in place. Despite this, high levels of work-related stress are still reported, with a global study by Microsoft finding that half of employees felt burnt out in the past year.
The effect of switching jobs is largely understudied, however, and there is little concern afforded to new starters. The expectation to make a good first impression and deliver quick wins can lead to organisations overlooking employee wellbeing early in their tenure, a phenomenon McCarthy is looking to subvert.
“Conventional companies would come up with a whole host of objections such as: ‘we can’t have people take time off because we need them ASAP,’ or ‘we can’t pay new employees to take time off when they haven’t contributed to the company yet’,” says McCarthy. “I really wanted to flip that concept on its head and instead look at the long-term impact of having team members come into a role more recharged and refreshed, and what they’d be able to achieve by taking that time off.”
Offering new staff a clean slate
The idea for Fresh Start was first pitched towards the end of 2021, when the company had 100 staff. Since implementation, the team has expanded and is now made up of approximately 280 employees.
Despite this growth, retention is also up, while applications in EMEA have increased by more than 1,700%, and the 32 new members of the UK team report a 99% satisfaction rate. Since Fresh Start was implemented, all new starters have taken advantage of the policy. These figures would suggest a seamless implementation process, but McCarthy says it still required a mindset shift among new recruits.
“Many people are used to coming into a new role and feeling the pressure to hit the ground running – they may feel awkward or guilty for requesting time off in the first few months, even if it’s desperately needed,” says McCarthy. “It’s important employees feel supported in taking the time they need to participate in something that ‘fills up their cup’ and allows them a moment to pause.”
This is a lesson the company learned while implementing its unlimited annual leave policy. Often, when provided with such a perk, companies feel they have no obligation to ensure employees are taking enough time off.
All SevenRooms employees are required to book at least five days of uninterrupted holiday in both the first and second half of the year’. Staff who have been with the company for longer must take at least a two-week break every six months.
“Minimum requirements on top of unlimited annual leave are key: minimising any ‘guilt’ associated with taking time off, while ensuring they have the space to take as much as they need,” McCarthy explains.
These allowances are part of a generous suite of perks. Every employee is given a monthly stipend on top of their salary that they can use how they please, a quarterly sum to spend at a SevenRooms client venues and all-expenses-paid trips for staff with more than seven years with the company.
“Employee retention is more vital than ever. By supporting employees so they can individually thrive, companies will be in a better position to attract and retain the talent needed to succeed as an organisation,” says McCarthy.
Offering benefits that benefit staff
How can other businesses implement a similarly enticing package? McCarthy suggests taking a temperature check to better understand where employees feel under-supported.
“When approaching new programmes and benefits, it’s critical that HR teams work closely with their employees to align on their unique priorities and ensure real needs are being met,” says McCarthy. “If a lack of time to take care of family is a concern, expanding childcare, flexible hours, recharge days, or other home and family-focused benefits can help show employees that you truly value them and their needs.”
Fundamentally, a policy such as Fresh Start requires an HR leader and senior leadership team that walks the walk when it comes to employee wellbeing. That means accepting that employees will regularly go through periods where work comes second to their personal lives, even when they’re starting a new role.
“The guiding principle for this policy was something I learned a long time ago,” says McCarthy. “People are not a company’s most valuable or greatest ‘asset’. People are people.”
This article is part of our Going Against the Grain series, which tells the stories of companies bold enough to break business norms and try out new ideas. To explore the rest of the series, head here.