Sir Richard Branson created a stir earlier this month by announcing that the Virgin Group will be piloting unlimited holiday schemes.
The entrepreneur has termed the unlimited allowance a ‘non-policy’, as Virgin Group employees will have complete flexibility with how and when they take their time off as long as they do so responsibly. Branson made the decision after learning how Netflix had taken the same approach in 2010.
“We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked”, the Netflix Reference Guide on our Freedom & Responsibility Culture states.
“Just as we don’t have a nine-to-five policy, we don’t need a vacation policy.”
“Rules and policies and regulations and stipulations are innovation killers”, states Steve Swasey, vice-president for corporate communication at the media-streaming giant.
“If you’re spending a lot of time accounting for the time you’re spending, that’s time you’re not innovating.”
WANdisco is a joint Sheffield and Silicon Valley company that introduced a no-holiday policy over two years ago. CEO David Richards stated: “Actions speak louder than words: we value actual productivity more than biding time at the office, we trust each other to do the right thing, we recognise that work is not actually at the centre of everyone’s universe.”
Interestingly, the average number of days off taken by their staff is 16; significantly lower than the previous allowance of 28 days per year.
Following on from this, a criticism of unlimited holiday is that employees have no protection from the demands of their work when there is no defined administration in place. Waterstons, a business and IT consultancy based in Durham, has had an unlimited holiday policy in place since 1994. Whilst they continue to monitor employee holidays, they do so to ensure that everyone is taking their minimum allocation of 25 days per year.
Clay Shirky, a New York University scholar, argues that people will push structured rules to the limit and try to find loopholes that benefit them when the structure assumes they would act in poor faith. However, when a structure assumes good performance on the part of the employees it actually encourages that behaviour.
As the 21st century workplace becomes more flexible, more time-consuming and less rigidly constrained to a 9-5 structure, it makes sense that holiday allocation changes with it. How businesses cope with that change, and how flexible they can afford to be, is up to them.