Why Not Tracking Holidays Could Backfire For Employees

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.

Picture: Getty Images

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?

Why we're letting Virgin staff take as much holiday as they want [Virgin.com]


Comments

    This is how I work and it's been brilliant for my business. Asking 'am I able to' rather than 'am I allowed to' means I take entire days off just to sit around and play XBOX. That sounds terrible if you're only looking at the hours I sit behind my desk but the result is that I never feel overwhelmed and I never take a day off that has an impact on my overall output.
    If I'm having a rough Monday it doesn't snowball into a rough week. I just power through, find a place in my schedule where I'm able to get out of there without breaking anything, and then come back later recharged. The flexibility extends both ways. I've got no issue with working at 3AM in the morning if it has to be done because I know I can just shovel things around and get that time back.
    I measure success purely by output so it doesn't matter when or where I work, which matches my personality perfectly. Will it work for an office environment? Only if your employees care about work they're putting their name on and are able to act like professionals.

    It's about treating myself like an adult who can make a decision rather than a child who needs a note from their mum to prove they're sick. Probably screwed me up on ever finding another job though, so time will tell whether it was a smart move or not. =P

      Yeah the problem with his theory is that people can be greedy/lazy jerks and the slack can easily fall onto coworkers, which in turn makes people petty and nasty towards each other.

      I would love to work under yours or his regime (and to some degree I do, my company is super fair). The morals I live by is that if you see someone who's constantly late or taking the piss with their role then they get no leeway. If someone is a champ, turning up on time, getting work done and actually doing their due diligence in their role then they generally get a free pass to come late or leave early (when planned) and have days off.

    I dont keep track of holidays and such and let my people take holidays as needed, so long as they give a little notice. It stops that weird Melbourne cup week flu everyone seems to catch.

    Seems pretty fair to me.. It's true when you love your job - not when you're a lowly paid drone.

    I feel I've got everything under control here. I've setup network monitoring to tell me if that changes.
    I recon' we'll need to replace a couple of servers in about six months, so thanks for the leave, I'll be back in about ... March.

    That works for a very small percentage of positions where the output is the end result and how they get there can be a black box. Won't work for retail, support, or any job where something can happen at any minute that needs to be dealt with NOW. In the scenario above, you would need to co-ordinate covering your own duties to account for this with your co-workers and as anyone that has ever worked in a company with more than three people, this is an impossible task and the reason you have managers.

    As a further point from what's mentioned in the article. It's not just the company trying to be "nice" - there's a financial motivation, too. The fact that you're not restricted in how much leave you can take also means that the company isn't committing to how much leave they'll pay you for. So under this system, there's no way for an employee to carry over any unused leave for future use[1].

    In these situations, there's not really an upside for employees. You're productive, work hard so that you can take more leave than you were previously allocated - you don't look committed, and look like you're trying to game the system. You take less leave than you were previously allocated - and you're no longer accruing leave for the future.

    [1] This is a major issue for employers. Companies can build up huge levels of potential debts when employees save up leave. And don't forget that if you save up a week of leave when you're earning $52,000pa it's "costing" you $1,000, but when you use it ten years later when you're earning $104,000pa, it's now "costing" the company $2,000 for you to take it. So there's an inflation to the potential debt for the company, giving them a huge incentive to make you take your leave as early as possible, or for it not to carry over to future years (as per the new policy mentioned in the article.

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