Opinion: Give unlimited vacation -- or watch workers jump ship

Richard Branson
Richard Branson takes part in a New York City Climate Week event at the Morgan Library on Sept. 22.
(Michael Graae / Getty Images)
Guest blogger

Rejoice, world-weary workers: Unlimited vacation time is yours for the taking -- if your boss is Richard Branson, that is. Among the Virgin tycoon’s latest business ventures is a plan to give his 170-strong team of personal staff total control over their days off, a “policy-that-isn’t” he believes will reward diligent employees and give them some much-needed autonomy over their own schedules.

“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,” Branson explained on his blog. “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.”

It’s got to be said that on the surface, this seems like a pretty sweet deal. If people want to work double hours for a week and then take the next one off, why shouldn’t they? And if others are twice as fast as fellow colleagues in getting the job done, isn’t it about time they got some kind of reward?

Because the traditional model for working is slowly but surely being thrown out the window, it just doesn’t make sense that our vacation allowance hasn’t been adjusted accordingly. For those that stay up late responding to emails, or wait that little bit longer after everyone goes home to get more work done, this brand of Branson-ology is the long-awaited recompense for their efforts.


While not every company has the privilege of a mega-bucks Branson at its helm, this ethos can and should blaze a trail for others to follow suit. Yes, it requires a huge level of trust in one’s employees, but perhaps if more emphasis were placed on recruiting the right kinds of employees and then treating them as truly valued members of the team -- as opposed to hiring those who merely fit the bill on paper -- a more focused, flexible workforce would emerge.

It’s not only Virgin that’s taking a more modern approach to our archaic work structures: Major organizations such as Netflix have also introduced the “no-policy policy” with positive results. This method of working has been praised by the Society for Human Resource Management as a sure-fire way of increasing efficiency: “Studies have shown that employees are more productive in more-flexible working environments,” a benefits expert said. “They’re more engaged, and turnover is lower.”

At a time when the benefits of self-employment are looking increasingly attractive, the onus should now be on companies to look at what they’re really giving their staff members. Something that requires you to be on the other end of your emails while on a beach or at a wedding or even during a hospital visit isn’t a job, it’s a burden. And if companies continue to fail to recognize the added pressure employees are under in the connected world, they’ll have only themselves to blame when workers jump ship. People want autonomy over their own schedules, and putting stringent, outdated guidelines in place ignores the reality of working life in 2014.

Nothing puts the argument for unlimited vacation better than the Netflix Culture slides: “There is also a no clothing policy at Netflix,” reads slide no. 70, “but no one comes to work naked. Lesson: You don’t need policies for everything.”


Charlotte Lytton is a London-based journalist and has previously written for CNN, the Daily Telegraph and the New York Observer. Follow her on Twitter @charlottelytton

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