In 2014, Virgin’s CEO Richard Brandson published an article about their policies regarding annual leave in their UK and US parent offices. They basically have removed all formal policies and let their employees take as much vacation as they want.
Check out the article here!
Although an alien concept for some people, it is not entirely new. Especially in tech, I am sure you could find loads of small companies who probably do not have a formal holiday policy in place. Most likely they are way too busy working on cool stuff to be bothered about it. Why would they? They probably don’t need it. In my view, a vacation policy will become obsolete when you have a true flexible workspace with the right culture and the right management style (setting local labor law and regulations aside; after all, we are game-changers, not lawbreakers!).
Would this work for your organization?
Maybe you are not a start-up and you currently have a holiday policy already in place. Although, you would like to create a flexible, autonomous and fun workplace, especially after reading that article. Maybe you are considering following Brandsons’ example and getting rid of the annual leave policy altogether? Chances are, you have some concerns about what would happen in your organization and you want to know a bit more about the risks and how to avoid them.
First of all, make sure to not just pull the plug out of your holiday policy, and do a quick review first to find out if you and your organization are ready to do so. It is critical to creating the right conditions to get this to work and to minimize potential risks. Changing these conditions is about creating positive improvements to your culture and management style. You need to make sure people know who is responsible for what, and that management has the right skills (and is compliant with local regulations) to implement this policy change.
What are the risks and what are the right conditions for an unlimited holiday policy?
After reading the article I started reading the comments, and I responded to some of them. These comments actually captured a lot of the common risks, cultural requirements, and concerns people have regarding an unlimited holiday policy. Below you will be able to read some of my favorite comments, and of course…my responses.
Comment: “This is a clever PR stunt to make people think they are getting a sweet deal. In reality work, pressures and competition will discourage you from taking any time off- as you will be seen as a skiver. There is no good time to ‘take a month off’ in business, as Branson well knows. It will make everyone work harder, for less and marvel at what a great idea this is. A fair policy would be giving everyone a generous holiday allowance and letting them take it when they like.”
My response: That is one of the risks of a non-vacation policy indeed. Assuming that the intentions are positive, if a company will be serious about this they need to cultivate a culture where going on leave and taking a holiday is seen not only as an entitlement but also as a necessity to refresh and recharge. Managers and peers should be stimulating taking time off. Of course, there is never a good time, but it is perfectly possible to take a month off if you’d prioritize on that. Oh, and if this policy will just make people work harder for less, Virgin will lose their best employees to the competitor, so they should be trying to avoid this risk!
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Comment: “I think this idea is brilliant but I think the practicality of it will result in employees being totally inflexible and totally unwilling to go outside the responsibilities of their role. In order to achieve no risk to the company & no recourse to the employee by taking time off, the role objectives, role responsibilities & tasks will have to be so strict and rigid. The danger will be that they create a “computer says no”, “not my job” type of work atmosphere. I have witnessed this many times particularly amongst part-time workers/ job shares etc. It will probably work exceedingly well in areas like accounting but it is hard to see how this will work in more fluid functions such as project management, marketing, strategy etc. I will be very interested in seeing a study in a years time!”
Response: I don’t think there is a need for rigid role descriptions, but instead you’d have to set very clear organizational or project-based objectives, get people motivated to work on them and make them responsible for achieving them. This is an important part of the job of today’s managers.
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Comment “Yeah I can see this policy wouldn’t get abused at all. We have a retail business of 20 employees. We need a certain amount of our staff to be at work every day to look after our clients. Under this “no policy” there could and would be many days where we wouldn’t have near enough or any staff for that matter to look after our clients. […]”
Response: The problem here is the level of responsibly. If you assume that managers are the ones who are responsible for staffing, then, logically, they also need to control the holidays. But, if you would make the staff responsible to make sure that there are enough people on the job, things will change big time. If they just don’t show up for work and thus there aren’t enough people, they are not meeting the basic job requirements, which means a major performance problem.
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Comment “[…]Also, what about people who are ambitious in their careers, or terrified of being overlooked for a promotion? Sometimes people don’t take enough holidays – and they burn out. If we stop counting, would some people never take holidays and then damage the business through poor productivity?”
Response: I share your concern about the people who are afraid to be looked over for promotion or just end up working too hard. The responsibility of the manager will shift from controlling and counting holidays, to creating a culture where employees are feeling responsible (and motivated) to get the job done. They also need to make sure that they are aware of the importance of taking leave in order to refresh and to have a healthy work/life balance.
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Comment “The methods Mr. Branson describes are not easy to implement on all levels. But….once achieved …..it gives motivation and control back to the real people. It is possible….but it needs a lot of work. Happy people are more productive. Sadly not all bosses realize this.”
Response: Well put. You cannot just “pull the plug” from the holiday policy in any organization. Cultural conditions need to be created, and for some environments that comes more natural than others.
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I hope you enjoyed this! Are you wondering if an unlimited holiday policy is something for you? Please book a complimentary discovery call with us to find out!