Tue. May 24th, 2022

Westpac offers a week of 'wellness' leave to around 4,500 employees in addition to their usual four-week annual holiday.

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Westpac offers a week of ‘wellness’ leave to around 4,500 employees in addition to their usual four-week annual holiday.

Westpac has told staff they can take five days of well-being each year on top of their annual vacation.

The bank has also extended its sick leave, so if an employee loses a sibling, grandparent or grandchild, they will be entitled to six days of vacation, making it easier for its employees with extended families or whānau.

Banks like Westpac have made progress throughout the Covid crisis with huge profits, and Marc Figgins, the bank’s director general of human resources, was aware that many employers would struggle to offer a week’s extra well-being.

“[But] how about half a day. How about extra time for lunch? What can you do?”

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Data suggest that many companies offer formal or informal “special” leave to workers.

Business NZ and the Southern Cross Health Society will publish the next Workplace Wellbeing Report, which tracks the things employers do to try to keep their staff well.

The report shows 31 percent of smaller employers with fewer than 50 employees, and 59 percent of larger employers offered some form of “special” leave, but did not indicate what types of leave covered.

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Nick Astwick, CEO of the Southern Cross Health Society, said the research shows that one of the ways companies promote well-being is to offer special leave, which can include wellness leave, a day off for your birthday or a mental wellness day.

“In the last two years, this research has shown a small decrease in the number of companies offering special leave, but it is dampened by an increase in other job satisfaction initiatives such as flexible work, mental health support, vaccinations, Covid-19 support and subsidized health insurance.” said Astwick.

For example, Kiwibank provides permanent staff with a “voluntary” day each year that they can use to do good in their community, and workers can apply for working hours to study and graduate.

Astwick said Southern Cross during the recent lockdown offered an extended lunch break to give staff an extra 30 minutes a day to step away from their desks, get outside or spend some extra time with their family.

Westpac gave all employees an extra day of “covid” leave this year, Figgins said.

Special leave offered by employers was often part of a broader well-being program.

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“New Zealand business leaders are finding new ways to help their people thrive with a greater focus on employee well-being,” said Nick Astwick, CEO of the Southern Cross Healthcare Society.

“We have also hosted meditation sessions, a webinar with Nigel Latta on mental health and a step-by-step challenge to encourage people to stay active,” Astwick said.

“Most of these are regular activities for us, we simply increased them during the lockdown.”

Some employers also allowed employers to buy extra leave by sacrificing wages.

Staff could ‘buy’ up to two extra weeks of annual leave, Astwick said.

Many employers have given workers time off to be vaccinated.

Some like the technology company Universal Communications Group give extra leave as a reward to workers who get vaccinated.

Westpac’s welfare leave was to be used in the year it was earned, but Figgins said there are no rules for how it was used.

About 4,500 Westpac employees would qualify for it.

Figgins said society had become more aware of the importance of well-being and work-life balance.

But while the bank was a leader in well-being leave, it played catch-up with parental leave compared to some of its competitors.

The bank would now pay 26 weeks of parental leave and introduced four weeks of paid “partner leave” for new parents.

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