Take as much holiday as you like... or dare

Steve Bridger

| 0 Posts

Community Manager

25 Sep, 2014 21:33

I'm sure you will have read or heard about Richard Branson's latest stunt idea. He wrote on the Virgin website how his daughter picked up on Netflix unlimited vacation policy - and how he wants to offer something similar to 170 of his staff.

The Guardian and BBC covered it (among others).

Some of the comments on The Guardian's site are interesting...

"Semco have been doing it for decades very successfully - workers set their own hours and choose their own holidays... It's a sad statement on how people are conditioned to not being treated as responsible adults that many can't see how this could work well for both parties." - Iain Gray

"It is workable. Because... it has the reverse effect. Saying 'sure, you can take as many holidays as you like whenever you like' but with *no* guaranteed holidays, the effect is that people, through fear, take less.Take as many as you like, but are you a team player? You took more than Bob here, why is that? Will you take as many holidays this year as next year? It masquerades as something beneficial for employees but is the reverse." - BWhale

In a Comment is Free piece by Anne Perkins, the sub editor writes "Richard Branson’s ‘unlimited holiday’ sounds great – until you think about it". There are loads of comments on that post, too (which I've not read).

We discussed 'holacracy' and going boss free last year. The Times They Are a-Changin' - as Dylan might say... but it all seems a million miles from evaluating flexible working requests.

What do you think?

Workable? Laughable?

  • Great PR stunt (which he is good at)

    But this is only for his "personal team" of c 170 (opening up the question of what a team of 170 people are doing). One assumes if you manage to get onto RBs inner team then you are keen, ambitious, motivated etc. Chances are you are heavily engaged and are unlikely to take your full annual leave entitlement anyway.

    But even if you did, and took more, then you will be judged by boss and peers by how much you contribute and how much you are one of the team. There will come a point where being off too much  you fail to contribute or simply are seen as unrelaible.

    So nice idea, good PR but cant see it having much wider resonance ot even much effect.


  • This idea is explored in the book "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It" written by the US developers of the Results Only Work Environment

    In theory we all have a number of hours each day - and over weekends - where we're not working. Adjusting working patterns through flexible arrangements can turn those hours into full (extra) days holiday.

    In the US the statutory minimum holiday allowance is much shorter than in the UK/Europe so this can be attractive to some employees. The biggest challenge - as I see it - in the UK context is that some of the resultant arrangements they describe would probably fall foul of the WTD.  

  • I love the idea generally of fewer rules and more self-regulation in the workplace. Ironically, as Keith suggests, I have found many senior types failing to take the required leave and so some regulation actually protects employees. 

    As we so often see on these pages, it is the minority who cannot play by the rules that cause the issues, yet rules or not seem to make little difference to them.


  • It is definitely great PR for Virgin.

    It really does depend on company culture whether or not this can be successful. It can be a win-win situation if there is a culture where people are judged by the value they create and not the time they spend in the office. If there is a face-time culture there is a chance it will stop people taking time off for fear of being accused of not pulling their weight. If there are very engaged employees they could work themselves too hard and not take time out.

    I personally think it's a great idea. I don't care where people work or how much time it takes. I just care about what they achieve. 

    I am most productive and successful when I work in an environment where it is acceptable to manage my own time and to integrate my work into my day as I need, so for me something like this would be good.

    Since becoming self-employed I have been known to work from a campsite or holiday cottage, rather than from home or an office. This half-holiday half-work scenario works well for me. I allow myself to take some time off to enjoy myself, but I can also keep on top of any more urgent work whilst I'm away. I find it reduces the stress of returning to work afterwards, yet still recharges the batteries. My partner gets to enjoy his holiday as he can do the things he wants whilst I work! 

    If I worked somewhere with a policy like Virgin's I could probably do this more often and enjoy spending some time away from home, without worrying that I wasn't making the most of my holiday or taking time away when there is too much on.

  • I think Lesely puts her finger on the point.

    This policy would be destructive in a working environment that values presence over contribution.  So it will depend a lot on how employees are judged and to what the organisation ascribes value.

  • Such an interesting topic, I had no idea this had been implemented anywhere!

    However, for the company I work for, I don't think it would work very well as there is a combination (almost 50/50) of the presence and contribution cultures...

    The worst part is that this kind of policy would really help a number of my colleagues here, and I know for a fact they would be a lot more motivated to work if they had more control over their holidays. For me personally, I'm one of those annoying employees that doesn't book a holiday until told to (HR is a lot of work for one person!).

    I'll be sure to give this a look if things change here, as like Lesley, I care about what people achieve as opposed to their hours present... 

  • In a lot of academic researchers contracts there is no defined number of holidays, instead they are advised that they can take 'a reasonable amount of holidays'.

    As a consequence my husband spent 4 years taking very few holidays as no one told him what a reasonable amount is!

    As the expectation in the academic research world is that you work day and night if necessary, I suspect that there were many other scientists in the same boat. 

    It's a great PR stunt by Richard Branson but like others have commented I suspect these 170 staff are unlikely to take advantage of their statutory leave, let alone unlimited leave.

  • Ash - unfortunately I think your situation may be the case in quite a few companies. A mixed environment where no prevailing school of thought wins out.

    There does appear to be growing acceptance that time spent sat at a desk does not necessarily constitute value, but many people still think that long hours demonstrate greater commitment.

    This definitely sits in a much wider debate about flexible working.

    There can be similar issues caused by face-time culture when people who work part-time find themselves forced to do as much as people who work full-time, but in half the time, for half the pay and usually at the sacrifice of career progression and recognition because they are believed to have contributed less just because they have been in the office less.

  • It's an interesting topic (and a great PR move by Virgin), but I agree with many of the points made already about the possible effects... Even on Richard Branson's own blog, it sounds almost threatening:

    " the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business - or, for that matter, their careers!"

    In these days of "doing more with less", I don't know anyone who could ever say that they, and their team, are 100% up to date on everything... And your career's success hinging on absence versus presence? Yikes!

    Burnout beckons!  I think that some regulation helps ensure that employees and their managers understand the importance of adequate rest and down-time, and "forces" them (if necessary, as it is with some highly-committed individuals) to plan it and find the necessary cover for their responsibilities.

  • I think this is a most interesting approach to so many HR themes.

    If you think of all of the topics we become embroiled in like, how do we engage our employees, how do we empower them?  How do we reduce sickness absence?  How do we attract the best people and retain them? How do we ensure that our employees take responsibility for for that do?  And more currently, how do we really respect our employees needs for work life balance?

     i think this in innovative approach. There are so many downsides too as I am sure many of us will have asked, none more so than the effect absence can have in terms of communication and knowing when a colleague is going to be in or out.

     I think that there would have to be a trial period, and let's not forget that employees will still need the minimum amount of holiday in accord with Working Time Regs.  That still needs to be measured.   But it is true innovation in the making and very forward thinking.

    There are some environments and some  types of workers that this would not cover.... Just imagine giving Just in Time Manufacturing employees this kind of choice or indeed employees in a service delivery sector.... Oh dear!  But it is true to say that the higher you climb the corporate ladder, the more flexibility you need.  Often we put more time and desperately need flexibility. 






  • I love the fact that this idea is so contrary to the current obsession with measurement and regulatory control and is about individual responsibility and conscience, treating individuals as having differing needs.

     There are of course a whole lot of practical issues with the idea(legal, financial and operational) and perhaps the idea is not as radical as it first appears (as above comments argue well).  It reminded me a lot of when idea and trend of hotdesking was first on the agenda.  As we saw, great idea, but people just sat the in same hot desk every day!

    Whether PR stunt or not, anything that get's us thinking more creatively and differently about key policies and processes to further people's flexibility and empowerment at work, has to be a good thing.  

  • I recently interviewed at a company that had the unlimited "vacation" days. Your sick time was also included in this.

    Under this plan, the company did still reserve the right to request certification from a doctor if you were sick more than 3 days. And with the unlimited vacation time, it was still tracked. Additionally if an employee wanted more than two weeks taken together, then written approval from a manager was required.

    Now since I didn't get the job, I don't know how employees really used the "unlimited" factor. I can see taking advantage of it for doctor's appointments. Yup I have worked places in the US where you need to take vacation time for doctor's appointments. 


  • I used to work for a huge American company whilst I was at University - the policy they had with regards to annual leave was you could have your leave entitlement and then as much unpaid leave as you wanted. This was actually beneficial to the company as most people wanted the time off at the beginning of the year after the hectic Christmas period and it was a way for the dept to get their budgets back on track and cut back on the payroll over the quiet periods when only the bare minimum of hours were required. Due to this it was strongly encouraged - I understand it wouldn't be a good thing for all types of businesses but I do think it could be a good thing. 

    I like many others who have contributed don't always feel I get my full allowance and almost always carry over my allowed entitlement as I don't always get the time throughout the year. I am however able to take time off on short notice as long as my workload permits and have been able to work from home also.

     As long as it isn't seen as a threat to staff I do think it can be a good thing!  

  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    30 Oct, 2014 12:28

    In reply to Emma :

    Llara, Emma... thanks for your interesting personal anecdotes on this one :)