Virgin founder Richard Branson has copied an idea from Netflix: not formally keeping track of when staff members take holidays, and letting them make their own decisions about when they need a break. While that sound generous, we have a nasty suspicion it could backfire.
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The motivation for this kind of policy is the idea that since staff often don’t work a strict 9-to-5 schedule — phones and tablets mean we’re always accessible — it’s not reasonable to expect that holidays should be tracked with that kind of precision. In an excerpt from a forthcoming book, Branson explains the logic thus:
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 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!
And there’s the rub — the assumption is that people will only take breaks when they feel like everything is under control. How often does that happen? And what kind of message does it send about the value of rest and relaxation? Far from being generous, it’s a subtle way to encourage being a workaholic.
Clearly this approach would not work for every business anyway (it’s potentially fine for Virgin Group, but wouldn’t work for Virgin Airlines). And while flexibility is a good thing, I’m not convinced this is quite the right approach. What do you think?