Richard Branson’s ‘holiday non-policy’: Work life balance – or poisoned chalice?

Richard Branson is offering his staff complete flexibility over their free time:

Employees can take leave from their jobs when they like without seeking permission, as long as the timing of their break will not have a detrimental impact on the business. Staff benefiting from the new scheme include those working in Branson’s family office, his investment team, marketing, brand and PR teams and the Virgin Unite foundation, but the new rules do not apply to thousands of others working for Virgin companies.

“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 100% 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!”

If absence is no longer be monitored it will be impossible to tell whether staff take more time off under this new system.  Although this sounds like a generous scheme it has the potential to inhibit employees from taking holiday because the vaunted ‘flexibility’ seems hedged around with so many caveats. It’s hard to feel confident that all one’s projects will run smoothly during a two week vacation – unless you are checking your email twice a day.

Even those working in companies with standard holiday arrangements can find it difficult to find suitable times to take their full allowance.  A set leave entitlement is an acknowledgement of the fact that people need time off even (or especially) if they work in very pressured environments.  Some professions will mean that it’s more difficult to take leave at certain times of the year but in general the onus shouldn’t be on employees to prove that taking a holiday won’t be inconvenient.

Branson’s approach would work well for certain types of freelancer or for PhD students.  No one minds when their work is done, or how long it takes, as long as the result is good, and completed to an agreed deadline.  But for those working in more conventional jobs a ‘holiday non-policy’ might too easily shift into a ‘non-holiday policy’.

Hat Tip: Kolya