Is Virgin's limitless holiday policy a friend or foe to HR?

Is Virgin's limitless holiday policy a friend or foe to HR?

Richard Branson bod
Richard Branson announced this month that Virgin have scrapped traditional holiday policies in favour of allowing staff to take off as much time as they like, whenever they like.

No doubt this news left employees all over the globe wishing they worked for Virgin.

However, does this policy (or lack of policy) mean, as Branson hopes, that his employees will be more motivated, creative and engaged – not to mention rested? Could Virgin’s holiday policy simply be a natural progression from flexitime, or is what appears to be a relaxed policy in fact a potential HR minefield? Surely the change in practice may be more restricting to some staff (especially those with workaholic tendencies), and ripe for others to take advantage, creating resentment, and leaving colleagues in the lurch.

According to Branson, Virgin’s decision is based on the assumption that employees “are only going to do it [take holiday] 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!”

Firstly, does anyone ever think they 100% up to date on every project? It’s a bold statement to make. Secondly, staff are required to judge if their absence will in any way damage the business, or their own career. The responsibility involved in risking the business or your career (factoring in the unplanned developments that occur in most businesses, and which may occur while you are away) for the sake of a few – or indeed many – days off is a little daunting.

Aside from the pressure you put on yourself, there’s the pressure peers can put on each other. If an employee is seen to be taking advantage of the offer, their colleagues may resent it. If they don’t utilise this offer, they may be seen to be currying favour with the bosses. Additionally, if there is no strict policy regarding time off, it is going to be difficult for HR to respond if there are problems, either with staff too afraid to take time off, and therefore becoming overworked, or with those who take advantage of the system.

However, there are companies who have been successfully implementing policies like this for a while now. Branson himself got the idea from Netflix, who already have a similar policy in place, and given their estimated net worth this year was a whopping $3.1 billion, they are obviously doing something right.

Implementation, and the correct degree of implementation, depends on your particular office. It also depends on how well organisational values are understood and communicated. The success of a policy like this hinges on the ability for staff to communicate regularly and for teams to keep each other up to date on their work progress. If staff are able to log progress, HR and managers will be able to identify bottlenecks or deadlines that are in danger of being missed. When staff can easily communicate their progress to managers and each other, it should be reasonable to enjoy more flexibility when it comes to the hours, or even number of days, they are expected to work.

As with any performance management measure, the key to success is planning, and effective communication of expectations before roll out. The ability to report progress means an open ended holiday policy could actually be a great motivator for your employees, not to mention a brilliant way to improve engagement and morale.

Who wouldn’t work harder and make sure what they produce is of a high calibre if it meant an extra couple of weeks in the sun? I certainly would. Especially if I worked for Richard Branson. I assume you get cheap Virgin flights too, right?

Articles by date

Just so you know...

We use cookies to help create this site's interactive features and a better experience for our users - Learn more about cookies.