Last week Richard Branson announced he would be introducing one of Silicon Valley’s latest hook tactics by offering 170 of his personal staff unlimited annual leave. At first glance this seems an enviable perk, but you may want to put down your imaginary Pina Colada and take another look .
Amidst all the dazzle, there was a small caveat to this magnanimous offering. Staff may take unlimited leave without any notice as long as they feel their current projects and teams are 100% up to date and that their leave would not damage the company or their careers. Well, that’s a fair squeeze of pressure to feel before departing to a seaside haven for a week or two. Go. Enjoy. Have fun! Just make sure you’re not putting the company, (or your career!) in jeopardy. And while you’re at it make sure that everything you are working on is 100% up to date.
This is a lot to ask in an increasingly agile and chaotic working world where we juggle multiple fluid projects. How often do you feel your projects and teams are 100% up to date?
It’s not altruistic but that’s not the problem
Fact: Businesses act within their own self-interest. The recent move towards flexible working, increased perks and a happy office environment is not due to some deep love and connection businesses feel towards their employees, it’s because these actions attract premium staff and help the bottom line. These practices are increasingly adopted due to increased productivity and efficiency within staff. This is the nature if business and I am not saying it’s a bad thing.
However, perhaps it is slightly naive to believe (even if it is touted by our beloved billionaire Branson) that this is an act of pure kindness. There are a few gains that tag along with offering unlimited leave, including increased loyalty and happier more productive employees. But there may be a more sinister affect to bear in mind.
Leave that comes with guilt and fear
If you were tempted on board with a company by the dangling carrot that is unlimited leave, what possible reason would you have to fail to take advantage? What about the guilt that comes along with leaving your team saddled with your workload? What about the fear that taking more leave than your colleagues will lead to passed up promotions, over-looked salary rises, increased risk in your job security and decreased respect. The problem with this kind of unstructured and vague benefit is it has the potential to position leave as competitive factor where staff feel they will be rewarded for playing the martyr. This can increase presenteeism and ultimately encourage people to take less leave than they are so entitled!
Putting a positive spin
Of course there are ways to counteract negative behaviours such as enforcing a minimum number of leave days, providing holiday pay-outs or enforcing leave during notoriously slow periods. Perhaps the idea of unlimited leave in its essence was filled with good intentions, but it is important to address what businesses and employees stand to gain and lose before we all jump on the bandwagon.