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Four weeks’ annual leave is never enough – especially when you’re a parent needing to ration it out to cover that seemingly endless stretch of school holidays over Christmas.
A pupil free day off here, another day’s leave to watch the school athletics carnival there. Soon those four weeks are gone without a moment’s R&R.
But Dr Samantha Crompvoets has devised a policy that makes her business, Rapid Context, one of the most parent-friendly companies in the country.
Rapid Context provides all its employees with unlimited paid leave.
That’s right. Each member of Samantha’s team can take as much leave as they like to maintain a balance between work and life. And her business benefits from an under-used segment of the workforce: academic mums with young kids.
Samantha began her career as an academic specialising in sociology of health. While she loved the rigour that academic thinking brought to complex problems, she was frustrated by the disconnect between slow-paced academic research and the need for rapid evidence-based applied research in the ‘real world’.
Recognising a gap in the market, Samantha established Rapid Context in 2015, and now works with a host of large organisations, including the defence industry, large sporting bodies and the national security sector.
This month, Samantha’s exceptional leadership was recognised with the 2018 Telstra ACT Business Awards, taking home the ‘small and succeeding’ award for her innovative workplace culture.
“I knew there were all these academic women who were amazing, but who had left university because it was too hard to do the child care juggle,” she explains.
“I started having conversations with them. ‘Come work with me,’ I said. ‘You don’t have to come into an office – you can do it all from home’.”
Those women told their friends and Samantha’s business has since doubled each year. Today, Rapid Context has 20 professional staff with background in the social sciences – all of them women.
“I’ve exploited the fact that there are smart women who would otherwise leave the academic world,” she says.
What does Samantha offer these women that the broader workforce cannot?
“Absolute and genuine flexibility, but also really meaningful work that they can see translated into change in the organisations we work with – and that is really rewarding,” she says.
Rapid Context’s culture is centred around teamwork and peer support. At least half work remotely from outside the ACT, but even those based in Canberra often choose to work from home.
“Everyone’s going through the same stuff. Bringing a toddler into the workplace is such a non-issue for us. No one has to apologise or hide it,” she explains.
The unlimited paid leave policy is obviously a stand-out – something that Samantha says was developed in a “collaborative and evidence-based way”.
“One thing I love about having my own business is being able to question every part of it. Why do we have four weeks leave? Why? Where is the evidence that four weeks provides optimum outcomes for staff?
“If someone needs two months off, maybe they need two months off – and then when they come back they are awesome.”
Unlimited paid leave is “peer monitored”, Samantha explains. “It’s written in the employee handbook and we have a shared leave calendar. Everyone’s invested and understands that if we all go on leave at the same time for six months the business won’t work.
“It’s not that everyone decides they’re going to take three or four months off. People enjoy coming to work, but they don’t have to stress about school holidays. The culture we’ve created means people are more likely to bring their kids to work and do shorter days, rather than take big chunks of time off.”
Not everyone was happy with the unlimited paid leave policy, though.
“Our bookkeepers didn’t like it all and said we couldn’t legally do it. I spoke with the Fair Work Commission – who said we had to specify minimum legal requirements and everything above that was up to us. But eventually I had to get new bookkeepers.”
Can other companies adopt this?
“Absolutely,” Samantha says, but with a caveat.
“We don’t just have a flexible work policy. We’ve invested in supporting it.” That means ensuring everyone feels connected with the company, its values and mission.
Samantha says there is a “level of emotional intelligence” that is required to implement a policy like this. It requires more than a few beanbags and hot desks, she adds.
“It takes more than just saying ‘I want a diverse workplace’. You need to think differently about the work. It’s not just about allowing workers to be flexible. You have to create a flexible workplace.
“But when you build an organisational culture that has a high trust quotient, people do come together. There’s a shared sense of wanting to achieve success.”