Richard Branson has made the very brave move of giving employees at Virgin Group an ‘unlimited’ annual holiday allowance. The idea, picked up from Netflix after employees said technology was creating an all-hours culture, has caused a fair bit of noise in the media and raises questions about whether, and how, this might be offered by other businesses, both large and small.
It sounds great in principle: offering the ultimate in work/life flexibility – so important in today’s workplace. And I don’t doubt the argument that it boosts morale. But my mind immediately went to businesses I’m familiar with and how such a policy might work in environments where striving to meet customers’ needs in real time can place huge demands on people. I can see it being quite a challenge for anyone but the sole trader, mainly through the uncertainty it might impose on staffing levels.
Then I read the “small print” in Branson’s blog – that it is left to the employee alone to decide when they feel like taking time off but that they’re only able to do it when all of their projects are completely up to date and when they feel a hundred per cent comfortable their absence wouldn’t derail their team or damage their career. By these criteria, I could think of barely a moment in my working life when I’d have felt able to take any holiday! So I wonder: could the “unlimited” thing actually result in everyone taking less holiday?
Developments in technology have allowed people to work in a much more flexible way, so that for many the concept of working ‘nine-to-five’ no longer exists. But part of me wishes that this ability to be more available didn’t mean people feeling inclined to work all hours. I hope the holiday policy Branson suggests wouldn’t lead to harder, longer working hours for those who felt obliged to do so.
With the ever expanding influence of EU employment laws, one also wonders whether this innovative working environment might be open to challenge if it could be said to discourage adequate rest and recuperation.
I do feel that Sir Richard should be applauded for trusting his people and offering them the ultimate level of flexibility in their working patterns. At British Gas, we take work/life balance very seriously, and offer our staff the chance to take up to five extra days of holiday as part of our benefits package. So I’ll be watching with interest to see how widely Branson’s idea is adopted among larger Virgin group companies. But for many businesses taking the bold step that Branson has done would constitute a daunting step into the unknown and, in today’s economy, it feels like a big risk.
Image: time for a break via Shutterstock