Among the plethora of changes employees want at the workplace, the HR treatment of sandwich leaves is perhaps the one they want changed the most. Sandwich leaves are days off that an employee avails on either side of scheduled office closures, such as weekends and national holidays.

Employees say that such leaves are justified in certain situations. For instance, “if you are unwell on Saturday and take leave but aren’t feeling any better on Monday and have to take more leave, it will be considered as three days of leave as opposed to two,” explains Sneha Damani, a PR Professional at consultancy firm Strategic Growth Advisors.

She feels this discourages the employee from taking one of the two days off. “It also causes issues and dissatisfaction within the organisation. However, Damani agrees that there can be exceptions, with many people taking unnecessary offs around the weekend, which is a genuine problem.

Damani was courageous enough to suggest that the policy be withdrawn at her organisation. The leadership agreed and announced that the sandwich leave policy would be withdrawn from next month.

However, this is an exceptional case and not quite the norm in India Inc.

Where did the policy originate?

To be sure, the policy did not originate at India Inc.

“The concept of sandwich leaves originated from Europe and America because these were the first continents where two-day weekend leaves were practised,” says RP Yadav, CMD of HR solutions firm Genius Consultants.

When the practice slowly reached India, he says companies realised it was affecting their work structure. “This is because, as human psychology goes, in case you are taking leave on Friday, you start planning from Thursday.”

And if a person is taking leave on Monday as well, it most likely means he/she is returning only on that day, if travelling, and that the mind will take some time to settle down to work the next day.

Is the policy still prevalent?

Experts say several industries, particularly Manufacturing, BPO and IT, where productivity is man-hour based, practice the policy to avoid the risk of multiple employees availing leaves at the same time.

“In either case, they reflect a trust deficit between employers and employees,” says Sonica Aron, Founder and Managing Partner of HR consultancy firm Marching Sheep.

However, some may disagree.

Bhavik Chinai, Group CEO of BVC Ventures, a conglomerate into logistics, security, trading and investments, feels that globally, work has always been quantified by duration – having time-based compensation (per hour or month) instead of outcome-based. “Further, work has always been executed from a certain location (office, factory etc).”

So, the natural consequence has been compensation based on “time spent in office”. Hence, Chinai believes employers have focused on maximising output for the wages paid, which can only happen by maximising time spent on the job.

To minimise the adverse impact on its operations, which has both field and non-field teams and involves staff driving to pick up and drop shipments, BVC Ventures has instituted a sandwich leaves policy.

Different modifications

Apart from the general practice, several organisations have combinations to protect the productivity of the organisation while ensuring the freedom of the employees.

For instance, some companies have a two-weekend rule, where out of 50 weekends in a year, two pre-post leaves combined with the weekly off are accepted, explains Yadav of Genius Consultant, which implemented the sandwich leave policy 20 years back.

Some companies allow one sandwich leave in their Annual Leave Policy, where sandwich deductions are not made.

Shift in focus

At a time when employees are clamouring for increased flexibility, will policies like sandwich leaves continue?

Due to the pandemic, industry leaders say, the focus has shifted towards getting work done within timelines rather than counting the hours/days put in. “In the long run, sandwich leaves can create dissatisfaction among high-potential, honest employees and add to attrition,” says Sarita Das, Co-Founder & CHRO, 3SC Analytics. This was also highlighted by Damani.

Echoing this view, Rupal Rajal, Head of People Operations at fintech firm Rupifi, feels organisations must realise that adopting a sandwich leave policy, particularly amid the entry of a young workforce in a pandemic-scarred world, might result in people quitting their jobs.

“In the current situation, this would be counterproductive as we live in an era of knowledge work, and all workers, be they blue or white collar, have ample opportunities in the market,” says Shiv Kumar, HR Head, Merck India.

However, others feel the practice is not going anywhere.

Amid the talk about a four-day work week, the different motivations of freedom-oriented youth, and today’s vast options for quick getaways, the intent to take combined leaves with weekly offs will increase, feels Yadav. “Hence, to maintain the productivity of the organisation, companies will have to implement sandwich leaves more vigorously.”

Similarly, Chinai of BVC Ventures says that compensation is evolving to be driven by outcomes, not time. “And that is a journey, not an overnight shift, for most organisations.”

While most organisations will eliminate the sandwich policy for knowledge workers who can produce outcomes from anywhere, others may not be so lucky, says Chinai, in a blunt assessment: “The sandwich policy continues to have value governing individuals in roles that can’t be done from elsewhere.”

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