Business & Economy

Richard Branson thinks employees should have unlimited vacation

Political and business leaders are gathering on a billionaire's private island Friday to back a program aimed at expanding protection for the Caribbean's imperiled coasts and waters.The
Political and business leaders are gathering on a billionaire's private island Friday to back a program aimed at expanding protection for the Caribbean's imperiled coasts and waters.The "Caribbean Challenge" calls for special protected zones along at least 20 percent of the region's coasts by 2020. Richard Branson, the adventuring CEO and founder of the Virgin Group of companies is co-hosting the meeting at Necker Island, his home in the British Virgin Islands. (Sir Richard Branson at a news conference on May 7, 2013 in Perth, Australia. Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Paul Kane/Getty Images

British billionaire Richard Branson has long been a business revolutionary, but his latest venture is raising a few eyebrows. The Virgin Group founder has introduced a "No Vacation Policy" policy. Staff can take time off whenever they want, for as long as they want. They don't need managers to sign-off on it, and there's no tracking involved.

Introducing the policy on a Virgin blog post, Branson explains, "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."

Branson credits his daughter with giving him the idea. She'd read an article in the Daily Telegraph about the vacation non-policy at Netflix and told him she thought it would be "a very Virgin thing to do."

Branson points to a Netflix "Reference Guide on our Freedom and Responsibility Culture" that says, "We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked. Just as we don't have a nine-to-five policy, we don't need a vacation policy."

The blog post is an excerpt from his latest book, The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership. Branson is a long-time pioneer of new ways of working (a previous Branson book was called Screw Business As Usual). He describes himself as a "tie-loathing adventurer," and you need only look at the photos of the Virgin Group chiefs to get a taste of the corporate mentality: It's jeans, smiles and open-necked shirts.

Interviewed on CNN, Branson highlighted the importance of a well-balanced working life: "The amount of holidays people are given in the States is dreadful. How can you find time to get to know your children if you're working with the very little holiday time you're given?"

Branson doesn't think his non-policy will be abused. For him, respecting your employees means you'll get the best out of them. "If they find it fascinating, interesting, and they're treated like human beings, they'll get their work done," his blog post reads.

Branson says this approach to vacation is smart and simple. At present, this new policy applies only to his personal staff of 170. But if it goes "as well as expected," Virgin will encourage its subsidiaries around the world to follow suit.

There are questions about how well a program like this can work. If Virgin pilots and cabin crew fail to show up for weeks at a time, it's unclear how planes will continue to fly. And if the standard is that employees can leave "when they feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project," some workers might perpetually fall short.

For those workers, a guaranteed number of vacation days could be preferable to an open-ended promise of vacation when people feel certain, Branson writes, "that their absence will not in any way damage the business — or, for that matter their careers"

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