Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Group, has told 170 staff working for its head office that they can take as much annual leave as they like, providing it will not damage the business.
“Flexible working has revolutionised how, where and when we all do our jobs,” Sir Richard said on his website. “So if working nine to five no longer applies, then why should strict annual leave (vacation) policies?”
Sir Richard said he was inspired by Netflix, the US based video streaming service which has a similar policy on not tracking staff holidays. The company reported that staff morale, creativity and productivity had all risen since the “non policy” was introduced.
The blurring of the boundaries between work life and home life caused by advances in mobile technology meant that companies were “no longer able to accurately track employees’ total time on the job,” Sir Richard said, adding that there was no need for his staff to ask for prior approval before taking time off.
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 100 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,” he added.
The new rules apply to around 170 staff working at the Virgin head offices in the UK and US. The wider Virgin Group, which employs about 50,000 people around the world in transport, aviation, technology and banking, will not adopt the same policy – yet.
“Assuming it goes as well as expected, we will encourage all our subsidiaries to follow suit, which will be incredibly exciting to watch,” Sir Richard added.
Sir Richard could run into resistance from his partners or indeed outright opposition from owners of many of the Virgin-branded companies. In many cases, Sir Richard either has a minority stake in the business carrying the Virgin brand, or where he has no stake at all, there is a brand licence in place for the use of the name.
Even the exceptions where Sir Richard does still own a majority holding – Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains – he has a large 49 per cent industrial shareholder as partner.
Some employment experts on Twitter criticised the claim as a “publicity stunt” for Sir Richard’s forthcoming book, and questioned whether such a policy could ever be applied to the group’s pilots, airline staff and train drivers. But many other social media users admired the bold move, arguing that employees would reward such a level of trust with greater loyalty.
In the digital era, executives are growing increasingly concerned that their staff not only take holidays, but also resist the temptation to check emails while they are away.
This summer, Daimler, the German car manufacturer, allowed its 100,000 staff to choose to have all their incoming emails automatically deleted when they were on holiday so they do not return to a bulging inbox.
Nick Bacon, professor of HR management at Cass Business School in London, said he doubted that the policy would prompt a spike in staff holidays as the culture of “competitive presenteeism” was so prevalent among top executives.
“The assumptions we have about standard working hours and standard working holidays do feel very yesterday, but the challenge is applying this policy to more complex rosters, or staff who may not have the same level of commitment as those in head office,” he said.
“People get to the top by showing huge commitment and working long hours, which is still the route to success in most organisations.”