Case study - Cultural and Wellbeing Leave

by SSI Group
Settlement Services International (SSI) is a community organisation and social business that, with its subsidiary Access Community Services, provides life-changing human and social services for over 52,000 people in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. SSI employs almost 1,000 people. We support newcomers and other Australians to achieve their full potential. We work with all people who have experienced vulnerability, including refugees, people seeking asylum and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, to build capacity and enable them to overcome inequality.

In May 2021, Settlement Services International (SSI) introduced three (3) days of paid Cultural and Wellbeing Leave for all staff and five (5) days for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues.

Interestingly, the idea was borne out of discussions in line with our reconciliation commitment to provide cultural support for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues beyond the minimum standard of 10 days’ unpaid ceremonial leave. This recognises it is important to provide space and time for people to honour ceremonial and kinship commitments.

SSI has a very diverse workforce with over 50% of our staff born overseas. In 2019, 70% self-identified as being of a culturally and linguistically diverse background. Thus, many of our people may have cultural commitments that fall outside of a calendar of public holidays largely based on a western, Christian-based worldview. It followed that staff from many other cultures may also appreciate cultural leave.

However, not all our staff members come from backgrounds where there are days of cultural significance to observe. Along with diversity, SSI also has a strong commitment to employee wellbeing. Therefore, to make this benefit more inclusive, we were able to add wellbeing as an additional criterion.

Therefore, the leave was created for everyone and is a holistic offering. The start of our procedure reads: “As part of our commitment to diversity, inclusion, community, and wellbeing, SSI provides an organisational benefit of additional leave days to enable our staff to honour the days of cultural significance for them, support community, and take care of their wellbeing.”

Of course, there are practicalities covered too. Wherever possible, any leave planning takes into account operational requirements and the needs of the team and clients, and this is the case for Cultural and Wellbeing Leave too. For part-timers the three or five days are offered on a prorata basis. They are available throughout the calendar year, they do expire, and restart the following calendar year.

Cultural Leave scenario

Hussam would like to take a cultural leave day during Ramadan, however there are several people in Hussam’s team who would also like to take cultural leave to celebrate Ramadan at the same time. Hussam works in a customer facing program and to have multiple people take additional time off would have significant impacts on the team’s ability to deliver the customer service required by his program. Hussam’s manager meets with all the people who wish to take cultural leave in this period, and they agree to share the taking of the leave over the Ramadan period as well as organising that certain staff can take leave on other culturally significant days throughout the year instead.

Wellbeing guidance

This is leave designed to be used by staff members in the way that works for them, their leader and team, and that aligns with operational requirements. It is intentionally broad and can be used for any range of reasons. For instance, as a mental health day, to support gender affirmation, to undertake a wellbeing-related program, to help manage life’s ups and downs.


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