Virgin's Unlimited Vacation Policy: PR Ploy or New Employment Paradigm?
The tiny but growing and much talked about trend toward “unlimited vacation,” or unmonitored work schedules, has caused a lot of buzz that is mostly celebratory in social media channels, but often denigrating in news outlets.
Bloomberg Business offered coverage that was mildly cautionary, mostly citing the tendency of workers to not use all the vacation afforded them even under current policy.
The Independent came out with a more derisive point of view, claiming that the “unlimited holiday” benefit proposed by Virgin was simply “another Richard Branson initiative that is designed to burnish his reputation as an innovative, forward-thinking and publicity-savvy business leader” and deemed it “a policy which squarely places an extra responsibility on the workers.”
That's harsh. Whether raising children or fostering a high-performing team, privilege should be given in direct proportion to responsibility taken.
Most parents would agree that when kids take on additional chores, and perform them with consistent excellence and require little or no oversight, it makes more sense to trust them with the keys to the car. Most employers would agree that when employees take ownership of the outcomes they deliver, it makes more sense to trust them to manage their own schedules.
The author at The Independent also took issue with the requirement Virgin has set for taking “unlimited” holidays – that before being absent the employee needed to feel “100 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”.
Well, yes, if employees want to leave on holiday even when their absence will damage the business it is to be assumed that the employer will limit the number of days the employee is allowed to put the business at risk.
However, if the employee is willing to take responsibility for ensuring that their commitments are met and their team and the business will remain stable while they are gone, then the employer can afford to allow them the latitude to be gone without needing approval from a superior.
High performance employees should have more options, and be rewarded for making good choices.
The Independent writer goes on to say, “It’s all right for Branson. It’s his business and he can slip off to Necker Island any time he wants. He’s got a squadron of underlings to take up the slack and, in any case, no one is going to question his right to take a break.”
But as entrepreneurs we know that no successful business owner has the latitude to “slip off” and let the “squadron of underlings take up the slack” anytime they want. Certainly, after years of business building, the savvy entrepreneur will have more and more staff they can trust to run things while they’re gone, and they will have constructed their work and lifestyle so that they can be effective in their work without being chained to their office. That’s just another example of privilege in proportion to responsibility.
Successful entrepreneurs, regardless of the size of their enterprise, have to have the discernment to know when they can, and cannot, be absent from their business. They operate with infinite choices, and they are rewarded for making the right ones. A policy that extends the responsibility for discernment and the reward for making good choices to employees would be highly attractive to high performers, even though the writer asserts that “… But what [employees] really want in terms of benefits is an entitlement rather [than] an option.”
As employers and entrepreneurs, we want to get what we pay for and get paid for what we give, and what we get and give isn’t hours, it’s positive results.
When we talk about “not trading hours for money” we’re saying we want to reach the level where we are compensated, and able to compensate others, based on the value of the outcomes achieved. A policy such as this has the potential to allow high-performing, responsible, entrepreneurially-minded employees to be paid on the outcomes achieved rather than time accrued. Of course, it requires a cultural shift the size of which many business owners (and at least one journalist) cannot fathom. It requires a workforce that is prepared to step into the role of the “intrapreneur,” willing to design their lives to offer maximum value to the business while affording maximum freedom of lifestyle. But it establishes a clear reward for employees who think and behave like successful entrepreneurs.
It also affords a company the opportunity to attract those high performing, responsible, entrepreneurially-minded employees. Which offers a myriad of benefits to the company that could potentially offset any additional costs for a generous vacation or holiday policy.
Certainly, it won’t appeal to employees who are looking for certainty, but the honest truth is that if you want certainty in business you’re in the wrong business. No matter what business you’re in.