Miranda Prynne, The Telegraph
Sir Richard Branson is to remove limits on the amount of holiday Virgin employees can take each year in the hope it will boost morale, creativity, and productivity.The Virgin boss believes that stripping away the company’s holiday policy and allowing staff members to take breaks when and as often as they wish will have long-term benefits for his business.
He was inspired after reading about a similar strategy introduced by the video-streaming giant Netflix, reported in 2010 by The Telegraph, which had been a marked success.
Staff at Virgin will now be allowed to take time off work without prior warning but are expected to manage this so they stay up to date with all their work.
Writing on his Virgin blog, Sir Richard said: “The policy-that-isn’t permits all salaried staff to take off whenever they want for as long as they want.
“There is no need to ask for prior approval, and neither the employees themselves nor their managers are asked or expected to keep track of their days away from the office.
“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 percent 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!”
The less rigid attitude to holidays has evolved because of the increasingly flexible working hours made possible by advances in technology.
Many managers can no longer accurately track how many hours their employees spend on their job because of the ease of remote working, and this undermines the old-fashioned system of tracking holiday time, Branson said.
He said the focus should be on how much people get done, rather than on how much time they spend on it.
“The Netflix initiative had been driven by a growing groundswell of employees asking about how their new technology-controlled time on the job (working at all kinds of hours at home and/or everywhere they receive a business text or email) could be reconciled with the company’s old-fashioned time-off policy,” he wrote.
“That is to say, if Netflix was no longer able to accurately track employees’ total time on the job, why should it apply a different and outmoded standard to their time away from it?
“The company agreed, and as its ‘Reference Guide on our Freedom and Responsibility Culture’ explains, ‘We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked. Just as we don’t have a 9-to-5 policy, we don’t need a vacation policy.’”
The entrepreneur, 64, said the change had been introduced at Virgin’s UK and US parent companies and would be extended to its subsidiaries if it appeared to be working well.
He said: “It is always interesting to note how often the adjectives ‘smart’ and ‘simple’ describe the cleverest of innovations — well, this is surely one of the simplest and smartest initiatives I have heard of in a long time, and I’m delighted to say that we have introduced this same (non) policy at our parent company in both the UK and the US, where vacation policies can be particularly draconian.
“Assuming it goes as well as expected, we will encourage all our subsidiaries to follow suit, which will be incredibly exciting to watch.”