Japanese business Piala Inc. gives non-smokers six extra days of leave: Would this happen in Australia?

This article is first published in SmartCompany. You can view the original article here.

A Tokyo-based marketing firm has gifted non-smokers six extra days of paid holiday after complaints from staff that employees who trekked outside for a smoke break each day were working shorter hours.

The Telegraph reports that Piala Inc., which provides clients with marketing services and platforms, implemented the policy in September after a staff member put the idea in the suggestions box, complaining tension was emerging when employees who smoke had to head outside multiple times a day. The company’s office is on the 29th floor of a Tokyo skyscraper, meaning each trip lasted around 15 minutes.

Piala Inc. chief executive Takao Asuka told The Telegraph he hoped to implement policies that would “encourage employees to quit smoking through incentives rather than penalties or coercion”.

Four staff members are said to have given up smoking since the policy was put in place.

Former human resources executive and founder of professional and personal development platform Career Money Life, Sandy Hutchison, says this novel policy for annual leave should not be surprising given the move towards HR practices that focus more on the needs of the individual.

“If you look at trends in employee benefits, they are all becoming highly customised,” she says.

If this kind of plan were to implemented in Australia, Hutchison expects there is potential for some objections from workers, particularly because many businesses are tied to awards and bargaining agreements for staff.

However, Piala’s policy shows there’s plenty of scope to offer incentives for staff to take care of their own wellbeing, and broader policies could be better received than simply focusing on one unhealthy choice like smoking.

“If you were going to do something like this, you offer something in the context of an overall health and wellbeing initative,” Hutchison says.

This could include offering leave to staff who volunteer to quit smoking, and including other support measures for them, she suggests.

Make sure your welfare policies match staff needs

There is plenty of focus on inventive and flexible human resources at present, from creating policies for working remotely to coming up with blueprints for your own and others’ mental health. 

Hutchison says there is no shortage of ways businesses can implement incentives and programs to help staff welfare, but the most important thing is making sure staff are happy with these.

“The tension is that HR departments are usually already under-resourced, and the thing is there is complexity in offering staff a range of options,” she says.

However, making sure everyone is happy with additional development opportunities and incentives comes down to asking staff what they want.

“Whatever you put in place, have some way of getting employee feedback. Whatever your objectives are, you have to have a way of measuring whether they are achieving that in some way.”

Hutchison cites workplace perks like gym memberships or incentives within a company to exercise, which can tend to assume “people all want to do the same thing” when it comes to extra activities at work.

Not only can this leave some employees out, experience also shows Hutchison these kind of one-fit plans often don’t help the workplace long-term.

“The actual take-up of things like gym memberships is that in January it’s big, but by March, not so much.”

Piala’s non-smoker leave program has come straight from a staff recommendation, and Hutchison says businesses should formulate any policies around “extras” based on feedback, rather than trends.

“Ask, ‘is it adding value to our employment brand, or is it just a me-too thing?’”

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