Back in March, one Japanese firm’s announcement that staff would be able to take the day off to play the newly-released video game Monster Hunter: Rise, took the internet by storm.

Then in April, Chris Donnelly, CEO of London-based Verb Brands gave his whole team an extra day off when the pubs in the UK reopened post-lockdown. With hindsight, perhaps he should have given them the following day off instead!

With people all over the world dubbing these CEOs the best bosses ever, now seems like the time to look back at some of the odd reasons for time off work that have popped up over the years, and the importance of proper employee holiday entitlement.

Japan isn’t the only country to deal with video game-related “illness”

Masaki Hayama, president of Mark-on Co., Ltd., decided to give all non-executive staff the day off, after a number of employees inquired about booking off the 26th of March (the release date of the very popular Monster Hunter video game), announcing that, ‘March 26 will be the release date of Monster Hunter Rise. And since it is expected that we will not be able to concentrate on our work, I will be making that day a “MonHun vacation”.

Later, in an interview with Huffington Post Japan, Mr. Hayama clarified the decision: ‘There were several employees who said they wanted to take the day off on the 26th because they wanted to play MonHun immediately, so we took the plunge and did this. We received words of thanks and appreciation from employees for giving them this day off.’

Although it’s one of the most particularly odd reasons for time off work that we’ve heard of, it’s still a nice gesture, and shows that Hayama not only cares about the wellbeing of his employees, but is also paying attention to what they value in their personal lives. But maybe he just saw the writing on the wall, and gave into the inevitable. After all, this isn’t the first time that employees have skived off in droves to play a new release.

Mr. Hayama might have been paying attention in 2013, when large numbers of UK employees called in sick to play Grand Theft Auto V in what was quickly named “GTA flu.” But new game releases aren’t the only odd reasons for time off work, employer-sanctioned or otherwise.

Australia: Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Sydney’s annual celebration makes our list of odd reasons for time off work because people in general tend to associate Mardi Gras celebrations with the US city of New Orleans. But Sydney, Australia hosts its own fantastic LGBTQ-themed Mardi Gras celebration and parade, with hundreds of thousands of attendees each year.

So, as you can imagine, there are plenty of Australians, both in and out of Sydney, who are forced to choose each year between showing up for work, or spending the night painting the Opera House red at one of the biggest, most unrestrained party events in the country.

In 2019, over 18% of employees in Sydney itself reported having filed for time off on the day of the Mardi Gras parade. On top of that, more than 17% of Sydney-based hourly workers also took the next day off to recover from the celebration (and presumably remove copious amounts of body glitter). By comparison, the average general rate for employees taking time off on any given day across the whole of Australia is just 9%.

USA: Tech companies gave staff time off to vote

Even for those of us not living in America, the recent presidential election was nail-bitingly intense. With political division across the country, and accusations being thrown around about the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, there was arguably never a more important time to spend all day queuing for something.

That’s why several major tech companies and retailers, from Facebook and Google to Walmart and Best Buy, gave their employees time off on Election Day to ensure that they could cast their votes. What places this on our list of odd reasons for time off work is that, for something so essential, there weren’t that many businesses taking up the pledge.

Europe: Many major businesses give employees their birthday off

Some people lose interest in their birthdays as they get older. But for others, the thought of having to spend their special day in a cubicle is depressing. That’s why several major European businesses have a policy of giving employees their birthdays off, some of which include:

  • Consumer insights giant, Kantar Worldpanel
  • One of the “Big Four” accountancy firms, KPMG
  • Dunelm, the UK’s leading home furnishings retailer.
  • Virgin Media
  • The Welsh insurance comparison service, Go Compare.

Why it’s important to be able to take time off work

Time off work plays a key role in enabling employees to continue performing well in the long-term. It’s essential to prevent losing staff to things like burnout or turnover. Having time off is also vital for us to be able to manage aspects of our personal lives, with one of the most common examples being care requirements for children or other vulnerable relatives. But parents and care-givers aren’t the only ones who need time away from the office.

But the amount of employee leave that people can take varies massively by country. Take Japan, for instance, where employees can find themselves punished by their work culture for taking time off. In 2018, Japanese workers only used a little more than 52% of the time off that they had. But that same year, Japan passed their Work Style Reform Bill to address these issues. And in the US, there is little legal protection for employee holiday entitlement. Only twelve states have regulation requiring paid time off, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full-time US employee only receives 7.6 paid holiday days a year, despite burnout costing US businesses up to $190 billion a year in healthcare costs alone.