September 26th, 2014 / Insight posted in Blog

Unlimited annual leave for your employees – how would it work in your organisation?

By Linda Powell

Richard Branson has controversially announced that he intends to let Virgin staff take as much holiday as they want provided it doesn’t adversely impact on the business. There is an ambiguity around whether the leave is paid or unpaid at present. Employees working for Virgin Group, Branson’s parent company, are allowed to take off however much time they want, whenever they feel like it. Prior approval is not required and it is not necessary to log the days away from the office. The intention is that if the policy works, then the policy would be rolled out across all of the company’s associated companies. Branson goes on to say that “Flexible working has revolutionized how, where and when we all do our jobs. So, if working nine to five no longer applies, then why should strict annual leave (vacation) policies?”.
Richard Branson sees this as working by leaving it “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 100% 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”. Many employers could be forgiven for scratching their heads in confusion wondering how this policy would realistically work in practice.  It could mean that a full-time employee may decide that it suits them to have every Monday and Friday off, so effectively becoming part-time overnight. If an employee does not need to get prior approval that could mean that the employee will just phone in on the morning when they decide they are not coming in. It is not clear how the policy would work around a customer facing role. Nor is it clear how it might work where an employee’s output is measured in terms of billable hours or achieving targets. In the latter scenario it might be more appropriate route for those employees to be given flexible time off in lieu instead to avoid creating division.The devil will be in the detail, but we can only presume that the policy will be self-policing by the individual teams or departments, and staff are less likely to take large chunks of time off, especially if it is unpaid. However, it could mean an employee relations headache for Legal and HR professionals. Inequality and difference may develop between particular teams in a business, with one team not taking as much leave as another or perhaps increased amounts of leave, potentially breeding resentment. Branson has indicated that it will apply to staff in the Virgin Group, but it might not work in practice for cabin crews on Virgin Atlantic where there are presumably strict guidelines around staffing of aircraft. It might lead to discontent amongst staff where one individual is taking more leave than another and is perceived to be unfair. This may lead to an increase in grievances against fellow workers or line managers if some members of the team are not thought to be pulling their weight. If employers are thinking of introducing this policy into their businesses, it is recommended that they review how the practice works within Virgin before implementing into their own organisation.