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Virgin’s Holiday Revolution – Another Headache for SMEs day is a holiday down Virgin way

When is a policy not a policy? When it’s a Virgin non-policy.

Sir Richard Branson has announced a small-scale experiment with his direct office of 170 personal staff in the UK and US (who manage his fortune) to take as much holiday as they like, when they like and as often as they like with no questions asked or no need for inconveniencies like seeking permission or even forewarning colleagues and bosses of their impending absence.

Introducing the scheme, Branson explained:

“Flexible working has revolutionised how, where and when we all do our jobs So if working nine to five no longer applies, then why should strict annual leave (vacation) policies?

“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 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!”

The wider employees of the Virgin Group, all 50,000 of them are not currently eligible for the scheme but Branson is not ruling it out.

“Assuming it goes as well as expected, we will encourage all our subsidiaries to follow suit, which will be incredibly exciting to watch”

He’s not wrong there, with absenteeism an all too familiar refrain for Virgin trains’ passengers when services are cancelled due to a lack of train crew it certainly will be exciting to see that policy develop. As for Virgin airlines? Well yes interesting.

Branson revealed his inspiration saying:

“I have a friend whose company has done the same thing and they’ve apparently experienced a marked upward spike in everything – morale, creativity and productivity have all gone through the roof”

Freedom to Holiday

That friend’s company just happened to be Netflix, who adopted the ‘freedom to holiday’ approach in what Branson described as a “downright courageous initiative on something very near and dear to the hearts of most workers around the world: their annual vacation day entitlement”.

Branson, the master of the publicity stunt, may just have a few books to shift and no intention of rolling out this initiative to his wider group companies but that hasn’t stopped commentators musing on the potential.

Christian May, the Institute of Directors’ Head of Campaigns said:

“Where Branson goes, people will follow.

“It fits with how work is changing, the old notion of 9am-5pm with three weeks off is increasingly old fashioned. We don’t expect the roll out of libertarian structures across workplaces….. but it should be watched with interest.”

Nick Bacon, Professor of HR Management at Cass Business School in London took a more sceptical view about the suitability of such a policy across the wider workplace, saying:

“People get to the top by showing huge commitment and working long hours, which is still the route to success in most organisations.

“The challenge [will be] applying this policy to [lower graded] staff who may not have the same level of commitment as those in head office”

The last word goes to May who saliently points out that life for businesses will become a whole lot more difficult “if you don’t know which staff you have in tomorrow, and they all decided to take the day off”.

You’ve had some great ideas Richard, some fabulous publicity stunts, this one though isn’t one of them; but then again if every SME had it’s own personal office maybe we’d feel differently.

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