I tweeted this Dilbert cartoon yesterday, poking gentle fun at the emerging unlimited holidays trend. Richard Branson announced its introduction across parts of Virgin last week.
Let me start by saying this is the sort of initiative that I really like. It recognises some important facts about people and work, the first one being that employees like choice. I’m cynical about the generalisations about generations that get shared around, but one simple thing is true – different people want different things from work. Sometimes that is age related and sometimes it isn’t. Flexible holiday schemes, including those that allow you to buy and sell holiday, allow employees to prioritise what is right for them and their own life circumstances. So if you need to maximise your take home pay, you can. If time at home during the school holidays is more important, then choose this over salary. Simple choice.
The other fact recognised by schemes just like this one, is that employees are adults who for the most part can be trusted to behave as such at work.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, schemes like this recognise that work is changing. The Monday to Friday thing sat at a desk nine until five thing doesn’t need to be an anymore thing. The old, simple transaction of pay in exchange for work done is rapidly become outdated. Employers want more (think engagement, discretionary effort, energy) and so do employees in return. It’s no longer just about the wage. Corporate social responsibility, work life balance, flexibility…. All these and more come into the mix. The bargain, the balance, is shifting somewhere new.
And on an entirely practical note, initiatives like this are great for both your external employer brand and making you sticky to your current employees. Because faced with the option of working in a place where you can have this flexibility, make these choices, against an employer micro managing your every quarter hour, what would you choose?
Netflix started the whole ‘take as much holiday as you like’ thing. But it’s different across the pond. They don’t have an equivalent of the Working Time Regulations, and you are employed at will. So take a few too many Caribbean cruises and you might just find that your employment status is a flexible as the holiday entitlement. Virgin have confirmed that employees will need to take a minimum level of holiday, which I’m guessing in the UK will align to the statutory holiday amount. Let’s not forget that the legal requirement to provide holiday isn’t based on being a good employer, but on health and safety requirements.
I’m interested to see how this scheme develops post the immediate headlines. How much extra leave will people really take? How will peer pressure impact upon the decisions people make? How will it be managed if there are individuals who go too far, and who take leave that does impact the organisation or the people they work with?
Because here’s the thing. Initiatives like this work well in cultures that are healthy enough already to support them. Virgin CEO Josh Bayliss said that he is proud of the Virgin culture. They trust their people, trust their ability to make empowered decisions, and they are already a big supporter of flexible working. But put this scheme in the wrong culture, and it might have unintended consequences. So, going back to the cartoon for a moment, you could just find there is truth within the humour.
Branson said this about the Virgin plan: ‘The assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel 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!’
This is adult to adult. I really hope that he is right, because if he is, this is one step that moves us forward to a better future of work.
In HR we do love to jump on a bandwagon from time to time. My hope is that we can resist doing so in this case, unless it really fits the culture, at your place.