You may be aware that recently Richard Branson announced that all salaried Virgin employees were now able to take as many holidays as they pleased, whenever they wanted. Sounds pretty cool indeed. Actually, a few companies like Netflix already do that, and as a result have seen a boost in productivity. They also get better, more motivated employees. How does it work? Branson explains:
It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off, 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!
Nicely played, Richard. Way to wrap a threat and a fake carrot in the same sentence. If you have ever worked for a company that doesn’t close for Christmas or the whole month of August, then you must know people all fight for taking time off during those times. Of course, it leaves the office understaffed, of course other employees are expected to fill in for the ones who went on holidays. Does that fall into “feeling 100% comfortable the team is up to date and the absence won’t hurt the business”?
The same goes for people who accepted to work over Christmas, if it is a low time at work and they know they will be able to get home by 4pm anyway, and enjoy taking holidays when it gets busier. Other workers generally see it as a win win since they got Christmas off, they are happy to cover for the guy who did them the favour. Now those guys will have to stay when it gets busy, stay at Christmas, and take holidays when no one else has days off (spouse, family, friends).
For me, having no holiday allowance puts an invisible pressure on workers. If you do take the time off, as suggested in the post, a full month for example, then it is really hard to say that your company for sure won’t need you three weeks from now. So what do you do, as a devoted employee? For forego your long holiday.
Whereas when you have saved up your days, and after a year or two are able to take 4 weeks off, then it feels truly deserved.
Furthermore, I don’t know how it can possibly fit all Virgin employees. Take the clerks at the airport counter or the Megastore’s cash register. Sure they can take an hour off and drive their kids to the doctor if there aren’t too many clients (meaning you can’t plan the appointment and the kid has to be sick outside rush hours), but there is no way they can take a week off without having their manager on board, and they certainly can’t take much more than the usual 20-something days per year, otherwise who would charge customers and check travellers in?
The way I see it, it kind of works for managers and office workers. Like an accountant who only needs to report once a month could take three weeks off and then work like crazy when he goes back. Or a sales manager, once the quarter quotas are filled, could take a few weeks and come back to motivate the team at the end of the next quarter. But then again, if you go away, the other manager will stay, push his own sales, and you will eventually be shown the door.
While it all seems super cool on the surface, I imagine the boost in productivity like the one Netflix experienced will indeed happen because employees will start feeling bad taking days off. And, cherry on the Virgin cake, Mr Branson won’t have to pay unused holidays anymore! Such a smart cookie.