Bonus leave: what is it, and why do we do it at Cliniko?

Offering your team the opportunity to take an extended break from work has many positive effects — for both them and your business. Come along with Jason as he explains more about what bonus leave looks like at Cliniko and shares some adventures from his recent time off!

Jason Goncalves·

A photo of Jason, Mike, and Bruno together in Portugal

At Cliniko, we have the immense privilege of taking paid bonus leave every five years of working. I know, it’s a pretty incredible perk. While we do have unlimited leave, this sort of break is designed to be a bit different. It gives you a chance to genuinely reset. Often when you take a week or two off here and there, you are trying to get your vacation crammed into that window, and you often come back to work more tired, and needing a vacation from your vacation; we’ve all been there!

Having an unlimited leave policy isn’t unique to Cliniko. What is more unique, is that we are actively monitoring whether or not someone has taken enough leave! We suggest that every team member take at least 4 weeks off a year, that is really just a minimum though. Every person and situation is different, but we think that if you are not taking at least 4 weeks off annually, you’re going burnout quickly. We also understand what it feels like to get stuck in a routine that revolves around work. Taking this bonus leave has been working well for the team, and I can confirm, personally, it helped me. It’s rare in our adult working life that we get these periods of extended time off, except maybe when we are switching jobs, so encouraging the team to take this time off is a win-win. A huge win for retention, and an even bigger win for our team!

In Canada, we’d call bonus leave a sabbatical, but that term isn’t as international as I thought! In Australia, a similar perk would be called a long service leave. I’ve known many people who have taken a sabbatical for a multitude of reasons, but almost always it was something that people did to get away from their ordinary day jobs, just to go and do some other type of work. That was never really of interest to me. But the bonus leave at Cliniko was very different.

The background

I was originally planning on taking my bonus leave in my fifth year, but life got in the way. I then had it planned for February 2023, but an unfortunate family emergency put a dreadful pause on that timing. Finally, I decided that I would take my leave starting 1 August 2023.

This timing worked out well, as my step-daughter was still on school holidays, and I was planning on travelling back to Portugal to visit with family. I also had a never ending list of things that I was really passionate about getting done around the house and the backyard, so the timing was great.

I should back up and say, I have been working in some capacity since I was fourteen years old. From a grocery store cashier after school, to making coffees at Tim Hortons on weekends, and pouring concrete with my Dad’s company in the summers. When I completed my Masters, I went straight into working at a hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. From there, I always had a full-time job. Always something to think about. Always someone else’s problems to solve. That’s what I do, solve problems.

In weeks leading up to my scheduled leave, I started to realise that this was going to be an extended time off, with no obligations, no need to wake up in the morning, nowhere I had to be, and no one that was expecting anything from me. That was a strange, and quite frankly, an incredible feeling.

I started to reflect on how amazing this opportunity would be, to step away from the working world, and do things that I love to do. Come with me on a little journey through my two months off!

Month 1

The first thing I really, really wanted to do was to build a shed. Yes, you read that correctly, I wanted to build a shed. I’ve had plans to build a shed for a number of years, had the concrete pad already poured, and it just sat there, staring at me week after week, month after month… year after year 🙈. It started to just turn into the forgotten corner.

Now, before you get too excited. I’m fairly adept when it comes to building things, but I’m nowhere near as versed as Katie is; she’s on our support team, and can basically turn wood into anything she desires! I need the pieces to be in a box, which I then get to put together, like a giant 3D puzzle. I ended up getting a prefabricated shed that was made mostly from recycled and reclaimed plastics. I picked it up from the store in my Dad’s truck, and decided it was time to do it.

Armed with fully charged AirPods, and a playlist riddled with Britney, Lady Gaga, Fleetwood Mac, and some other fabulous songs from the 80s and 90s, I decided it was time to go. I treated this like it was an IKEA build: plan for it to take the entire day, and hope it doesn’t.

After about four hours of putting together each of the pieces, it was time to make the shed look like a shed, and not a pile of mismatched pieces. I grabbed my partner, Michael, and he helped me put things together. After a couple more hours, a lot more lifting, and heaps of laughter, the shed was complete! I was even able to get some stone that my neighbour was getting rid of to clean up around the shed.

Jason posed with his homebuilt shed

I did it! 🎉 It was challenging, but honestly, it was heaps of fun. Although it took six hours of building, fastening, and lifting, it was very much worth it. I took some time to enjoy our backyard, pool, and gardens until the next adventure: Portugal.

Of all the times I’ve gone back to Portugal, this was the first time I didn’t have a fully planned out itinerary. Our family home in Portugal is in the north, like the very north! We are so far north that we often roam on Spain’s wireless network versus Portugal’s. The town is also very remote; electricity was introduced in 1974.

The only real plan for our time there was to set up the internet in our house, and to eat our way through the pastries of Portugal. Our family home is well over 100 years old, passed down to each of the kids as the family ages. According to my Mom, she said that she only can remember as far back as her grandparents owning that house, but she believes it is even older than that. The house is made of pure stone, concrete, and granite, so getting wireless internet to go further than one room, is damn well near impossible. My partner and I spent a number of days passing ethernet cabling through the crawl space that was under the house. I also got a glimpse into how houses were built hundreds of years ago, and can confirm, it was dodgy. 😬

You are probably wondering if that was fun or not. It was, actually! Heaps of fun. We wanted to get the house set up in a way that would allow us to run away in the thick of our -40C winters and work from there for a few weeks. We had been meaning to do that for a while, but things only lined up well enough to do it during this trip.

We managed to get our internet from 10 MB down and .5 MB up, to a staggering 250 MB down, and 40 MB up! Not the fastest, but far better than what we had before. We can now actually have a FaceTime call without playing a game of “guess who is behind that blurry face!” Before our improvements, it was also extremely challenging to do any sort of real work in the house. It would often mean staying up later than everyone else, so no one would be using the very limited amount of internet we had. Not ideal if you are remote working.

With that monumental project completed, we carved out some time to take a drive down south to visit Bruno and his partner, Bianca. Bruno is a software developer at Cliniko who lives in Portugal, and I always try to have at least one meal with him while I’m there! This time, we also explored a castle in his city, which he had never been to 🏰!

After that, we spent the last few days enjoying the great food, amazing weather, and fabulous company! Two weeks went by very quickly, and when we returned home, I realised that half my leave was already complete!

A photo of Portuguese custard tarts
A photo of al fresco pastries in Portugal

Month 2

The month of reflection, riding, and learning!

I originally had plans to head to the UK and visit with some of my friends and colleagues, but after flying around in the summer, the thought of getting on another flight was quite dreadful! Instead, I decided I would spend the last month enjoying my city and surrounding areas. Often people think they need to fly far away to experience something new, or to find a great restaurant, or experience something you haven’t before, but often you can find those things very close to home. From taking the train to Toronto, to driving across the border to experience the Detroit Auto Show, walking along our beaches, or biking across the city to a new cafe I haven’t experienced, it was a really enjoyable month.

I managed to log just under 400 km on my bike during that month, which probably doesn’t equate to the number of pastries I consumed 🥐. I spent a lot of time sitting in parks, reading on my Kindle, and thinking about life. Thinking a lot about how lucky I am to have a workplace that allows me to do exactly what I was doing at that moment in time. Lucky I live where I live, and not in a place where I’m under the threat of losing everything. Lucky to have a partner who I genuinely love and get to spend the rest of my life with.

I don’t really have a job title in the traditional sense of job titles. The closest thing to it would be “Projects”. This includes business projects, planning events, gathering details about a feature, or really any other things that pop up that need someone to run with them: all things I’ve done and enjoy doing!

As you can imagine, there are many, many projects that come up at Cliniko. Thankfully, we have a couple people on the team now that have this similar role, who float from one project to the next, learning and doing what needs to be done. With that, I wanted to come up with a few areas of Cliniko that I’m really passionate about and primarily work on those things when I return.

Without the time to sit and reflect, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on what it is about what I do that really brings me the most joy!

So what?

This is obviously an incredible perk that Cliniko offers us, but I do strongly believe that it’s a model that many companies could utilise. Not only does it give employees the chance to do the things they have been wanting to try, it also gives them time to sit and think about how they want to contribute to their job.

I want to expand a bit on the question that I was asked a number of times: “how is this any different to taking some leave, when you already have unlimited leave?”. I think I’ve touched on that a bit, and I can’t speak for others on the team, but when I do take regular leave from work, I often still have my email hooked up on my phone, or I’m still logged into Slack. Habits are hard to break, so even when I’m relaxing poolside somewhere, I’ll casually take a look at what is happening in Slack, or who may have emailed me. Having the extra time, and knowing I was able to focus on me, I set this leave up to be different! I logged out of Slack, disconnected my email, and logged out of any work related apps. I know me, and I didn’t want to be tempted to look, as odd as that may sound. I highly recommend this. When I got back, it was really amazing to spend a few days catching up on a bunch of Slack channels and messages, and It was a good way to get a sense of where things were at, and where I could jump in to get things finished up!

For me, I’ve found that it has put a reset on any sort of burnout fatigue, and it has made me really excited about logging on each morning! With a renewed focus, and greater appreciation for the career that I have, I wholeheartedly believe that it has made me a better team member.

A selfie photo of Jason wearing a helmet riding his bike
A photo taken from the bike seat on a ride through the forest

Author information

Jason Goncalves works on a little bit of everything at Cliniko, but mostly making it better for everyone. When he's not in front of his computer, you'll find him in his gardens, riding a bike, gaming, or cooking!

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