The Benefit of Flexibility: Accenture's Future Leave Program

Employee using leave program to volunteer
Time for yourself, time away, time with loved ones, time to follow your dreams. Perhaps you need a couple of weeks to complete and recover from your first triathlon. Or maybe your passion is building houses for the displaced, and to really make a difference, you need eight weeks away from work. It could be that your elderly parent has fallen ill and needs you by his side to run the family business.

What difference would it make if your employer supported your time away, provided you the avenue to plan for it, granted temporary leave without asking any questions, and saved your place in the organization for your return?

What's a Future Leave Program?

At Accenture, more than 300 employees are experiencing that difference through the company's Future Leave program. Future Leave is a self-funded, unpaid sabbatical (up to 90 days) that offers short-term career off- and on-ramping to help employees integrate work and life. It addresses employees' need for time away that's longer than paid time off traditionally allows. No questions are asked and their job is guaranteed to be there when they return. In addition, the employee remains on the company's benefits plan while on leave and benefits from having a planned time away that they can plan for financially.

"We created Future Leave in direct response to what employees told us they needed more time to do what was important to them while still pursuing challenging and successful careers," says Sharon Klun, Director of Work/Life Initiatives.

Accenture's Future Leave Program launched in March of 2008, after two pilot programs that received overwhelmingly positive feedback. Employees can select between one and three months away from work and need supervisor approval to do so. Applications are accepted at any time; there's no open enrollment period and no need to give a reason for the request.

The Results: Improved Retention, Culture and More

Response to the program has been spectacular. Between 30% and 40% of participants took advantage of Future Leave in conjunction with a maternity leave. The company's 2008 Live Well survey also showed that 61% said that sabbaticals and/or career flexibility was one of the top two most valued resources.

Program impact crosses all demographic lines this is truly a multigenerational benefit. Regardless of gender, age, career or life stage, employees viewed the program as a viable, valuable tool to balance work and the rest of their lives. Even employees who have not participated in Future Leave say the program reflects positively on Accenture and its culture.

Simply put, people want to work at an organization that understands the need for career breaks and provides the option to do so. The program is enhancing recruitment and retention as well: 'The feedback we received from new recruits has been extremely positive. We've heard new employees say, 'I may never need it, I may never use it, but to know that I have this safety net built into the culture makes me feel really good about the company."

Accenture kicked off Future Leave after investigating the effect of workplace flexibility on its 30,000-member organization. Through initial research, the organization found that more than 10% of internal respondents would have had to quit their jobs if they'd been unable to take an unpaid leave of absence. 78% of employees said additional flexibility would significantly enhance satisfaction. For 7 of 10 employees, it would be likely or highly probable that they'd leave their jobs if not provided flexibility.

Next Steps Toward Work Flexibility

Because of the early success of Future Leave, Accenture is expanding its flexibility strategy, perhaps to include a program that provides additional time away.  "Accenture continues to listen to employees and respond to what we hear," says Klun. "Time, flexibility, and the ability to succeed both personally and professionally ensure that our employees can achieve their goals, while Accenture remains a thriving and high-performing organization."
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Employee using leave program to volunteer

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