Workshop: Personal Trainer

A member of staff wants to take all her five-week leave entitlement in one block to go travelling. It is not convenient and it means we will need to pay for temporary cover. Should I refuse?

My first instinct is to say "good for her". I am much in favour of people making effective use of their leave entitlement. I am sure it would be marvellously refreshing and exciting for the staff member concerned and she will come back invigorated.

But I suppose I would say that. Every two years or so I do exactly the same thing! In 2003, I took five weeks leave to travel the world as compensation for reaching my half century, so it would be hypocritical if I were to advise denying such opportunities to others.

However, there are some very real practical difficulties for you here.

I guess, as for most of us, your organisation is not hugely financially resourced. Hiring a temp for five weeks will be expensive.

The first task is to ensure that both the organisation and the staff member plan this properly. Have you talked to her about the timing? Perhaps a good time for such a break would be over the Christmas and New Year period. This would certainly cut down on your need to hire temporary cover.

Are there ways in which parts of the work can be taken on temporarily by others, or better prioritised?

I can well imagine if this is a snap decision then it would be very difficult to cope. But with effective planning by all concerned, including the staff member, it could work. Both of you should sit down and see that work is well covered before she leaves and when she returns.

You should remember that any member of staff can have a sudden serious illness or leave suddenly. These days, the time taken to advertise and fill posts can easily take five weeks or more. Organisations tend to cope in those circumstances, so why not when it can be well planned?

The smart employer these days is one that thinks carefully about how they can make their working patterns flexible for staff. If you are flexible, you will find it pays off in the loyalty and motivation of those concerned.

You can certainly refuse the request - after all, leave does have to be agreed and it has to be within the boundaries of the efficient pursuit of an organisation's business.

Obviously, if you consent to this for one member of staff, others may want to follow suit. And remember that, as an organisation, you do have to continue to provide a service. My advice would be to see how it can be best managed.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to:

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