Why skipping work is easier than ever before

·5 min read
Out of office
Out of office

For most of history, there was no such thing as leave. There was work, which was most of the time, and not-work, which was much less of the time. You might enjoy the odd religious holiday, but they were prescribed, as was the weekend, when that came along. Broadly speaking, your days of rest were the same as everyone else’s.

Not any more. Paid leave for everyone in Britain has its origins in the 19th century, and was formalised in 1931. Since then, it has been open season on time off. You can no longer simply take time off for holidays, bereavement, illness or having a baby, but a whole host of other conditions, ranging from the debilitating to the mildly inconvenient. Not being in has never been more in. Time everything right and you could surf from pawternity leave to divorce leave, the most recent in leave innovations. Here are some of your options.

1. Divorce leave

Under a scheme being trialled by NatWest, Asda, Tesco, Unilever and a few other high-profile firms, parents going through a divorce will be allowed time off to help manage the separation. It sounds reasonable, on the surface, but it won’t be long before the boundaries start to blur. Why only parents? Is a divorce not traumatic enough for the couple getting divorced? And how about a couple who aren’t married but have been together for a long time? What about a couple who haven’t been together for very long but it has been very intense? What about if it had been going really well for a fortnight, but you’ve caught her with your handsome best friend? Even worse, your unhandsome best friend? What about a bad first date?

2. Sick leave

The original and most legitimate leave, where poor health means you are unable to do your job. Once this was purely physical – can you lift this hay bale? – but society today is more sympathetic towards mental illness, too. Ironically, one of the long-term effects of the pandemic is that while it has lowered the threshold for working at home – so much as a cough in the office will see your colleagues create an exclusion zone around you – it has raised the threshold for not working. Sure, you’re ill, but how ill?

3. Unlimited leave

A eye-catching but sneaky policy instituted by a few American companies, such as Netflix and Goldman Sachs, where certain staff are granted unlimited holiday. The reality is that if you are the kind of person who makes partner at Goldman Sachs or lands a job at the hyper-competitive Netflix, you will not be a slacker.

4. Duvet days

Apparently invented by British PR firms in the 1990s, the “duvet day” was introduced as a kind of formalised sickie. It might be raining, you might have gone out the night before, but we all know the feeling: sometimes you wake up and you simply don’t fancy it. By building a couple of these into the calendar, firms spare the employee the humiliation of fraudulently calling in sick, and the boss the humiliation of pretending to believe them.

5. Quiet quitting

Another recent innovation, this is a subtle form of leave in which you stay in the office and simply work less. While you won’t get a suntan, it has the advantage that you can do it every day, and combine it with other forms of leave to the point where nobody is certain who you are, what you do or why you are there. Ideal.

6. Pawternity leave

Leave to look after a pet. A bigger problem since the pandemic, when a well meaning but short-sighted WFH demographic acquired pets in record numbers, without stopping to think that one day they might not be at home 24/7 for furry snuggles. Pet leave is only tolerable in that it is preferable to having pets brought into the office.

7. Captain Oates Leave

I’ve just invented this one: so as far as I know it isn’t law, but this is a form of leave where you stand up, announce to your colleagues that you’re “just popping outside”, and head off for a four-hour lunch. Ideally leave a computer open and a coat on the back of your chair, to give the impression that you’ll be returning at any moment. Bonus points for buying a spare mobile to leave on your desk. In 2023, nobody leaves their desk for more than 10 minutes without their phone.

8. Christmas shopping days

The original idea was to spare employees from having to shop on December weekends, where they would be surrounded by hoi polloi. They have been made redundant by Amazon, which means you could schedule your Christmas shopping leave for a day when you’ll be hungover in December instead. A chic form of leave.

9. Parental leave

When it comes to parental leave Britain appears to be caught between wanting to be America, where mothers are expected back at their laptops while they are still tethered to the epidural pipes, and Scandinavia, where as far as I can tell neither mother nor father are expected to do a day’s work ever again, so busy will they be ensuring their offspring grow up into a grizzled, Hygge-loving, gender-neutral murder detective.

10. Annual leave

Common-or-garden holiday entitlement. It’s not clever, and it’s not big, especially not in America where you are lucky to get a fortnight. But in a world where there is a specific leave for every situation, there is something pure about traditional leave. Enigmatic, even. Noble. You might be getting divorced, eating pizza in bed, fighting a duel or researching other types of leave. Nobody needs to know.