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Giving staff unlimited holidays – disaster, or a stroke of genius?

Richard Branson announced last week that some Virgin employees should be allowed to take as much time off as they want. Branson was inspired by a similar ‘non-policy’ at Netflix, who rely on the notion of mutual trust between staff and employer, to prevent the wheels of the business from creaking to a halt.

What a genius idea – the business could achieve flexibility, loyalty and increased output from its staff! The staff also benefit from flexibility, increased morale and a better work-life balance! It’s an interesting solution in an often 24/7 business world.

So, what’s the catch? Branson assumes that staff will only take time off “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!”

Doesn’t this non-policy just create another, unwritten method of controlling annual leave? Will staff find themselves pressurised into taking less holidays and ‘competing’ with colleagues to see who comes across as most hardworking? Will some staff abuse the system, creating tension in a team? Will there be a tendency for some staff to forfeit annual leave, incase it impacts on decisions about redundancies or promotions?

The key concern about this non-policy has to be balancing its flexibility with the health and safety risk that workers will not take adequate holidays each year. Clear communication to staff about his could help ensure that the line between work and rest does not become even more blurred. (Check out our earlier blog post on Daimler and one of their innovative solutions to combat this.)

Branson is currently trialling the policy and if all goes well, he will encourage his other companies to do the same. Is this something that your organisation  might try?


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