Richard Branson has scrapped holiday entitlement, has he gone crazy?

The BBC headline reads ‘The boss of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, is offering his personal staff as much holiday as they want’! The casual observer might think Branson has finally lost it. Surely no one will work, it will be anarchy and everyone will be on endless holiday time? In reality I doubt it and I’m going to explain why. However in the interests of taking a balanced approach I’m also going to highlight what I see as a potential downside too.

Let’s start with the positives. First off all Branson has created yet more headlines for Virgin which we know he is great at doing. He has even started a UK wide national discussion on the subject so people are talking about him and Virgin. More innovation and daring from Virgin it seems…

However peer behind the headlines and you’ll see a more considered move. First off all, Branson knows a thing or two about human psychology. He’s banking that his personal team of 170 are by and large working with him because they want to. It’s a fair assumption that Branson already gives his people the core requirements of what research tells us motivates people at work. Dan Pink did a good job of summing it up as ‘autonomy, mastery and purpose’. Branson’s team are also more than likely to be competitively remunerated for their efforts too – however do not let this confuse the point. Money by and large is a poor day to day motivator. My supposition is that Branson knows that money is only really a problem if it is perceived as not being enough. Therefore I expect that he ensures his team are well ‘rewarded’ in this traditional sense of the word. Furthermore and arguably more importantly, I suspect that he and his senior leadership team are good at actually telling people they’re valued.

All of the fore mentioned factors allow him to bank on what he knows to work and that is ‘trusting people’. He knows he has the right people in place and by trusting them to make adult choices about holidays he is cutting back on bureaucracy and kicking an industrial era practice out of the 21st century…

Ok so that’s the positive view on all of this. Now for the negatives. If there were to be a downside of scrapping holidays, it will not be because people take liberties. In fact the problem could ironically be the exact opposite of the apparent benefit, in that people will not take enough holidays! Virgin is a successful company; it hasn’t got that way by accident but through hard work. I suspect many of Branson’s team will have migrated to him from other corporates. In my experience the underlying and unwritten rule is the same – long hours is the name of the game.

The risk for Virgin is that people take less holidays either because they forget to manage them or because they feel pressure that the best way to get on is not to take them. This could result in a dissatisfied and burned out workforce.

However I’m going to have faith that this will not happen and this is because of the man himself. Any initiative of this sort is hugely dependent on leaders walking the walk. I’ll go back to my earlier point and that is Branson simply understands human psychology and basic leadership principles. Indeed he has applied them throughout his career. As a happy coincidence he also seems to be a man who enjoys leisure as much as work.
If I were offering advice to Virgin it would be to make sure they monitor the situation to ensure that people do in fact take holidays. At any rate it will be really interesting to find out how this works out. From a purely human psychology perspective, I think Branson is on the money with this one.
Would scrapping holidays work in your company? It really comes down to the beliefs and values of the organisation. The reality is that for many organisations it would be a step too far because the conditions for it to work, which can be summed up as 'trust', do not exist.
What do you think?


Job Descriptions - the Good the Bad and the Ugly

Job descriptions are a fixture of working life. In theory they have many uses including workforce planning, recruitment, performance measurement and job evaluation. Unfortunately this theory rarely translates into actual practice. In my experience, job descriptions tend to spend the majority of their time gathering dust, with little bearing whatsoever on the day to day necessity of making a business successful.

One of the common practices I have observed is that job descriptions tend to be created for people. This might sound logical but I believe the reverse should be true. How often do you hear “we need to update your job description” as a response to changing tasks in an ever changing world? The exercise often becomes retrospective and the job description becomes a sort of memorandum to record what the individual has been or is doing. Surely all of this is the wrong way round and the question instead should be what work actually needs to be done in order to make the business successful? Only then should the skills and requirements to do the work be written down.
Earlier this year US tech company Zappos caught the media’s attention when they completely ditched job titles and flattened their organisational structure. They implemented an alternative to the hierarchy called the ‘holocracy’. One of the interesting features of the holocracy is the emphasis it places on job descriptions to help inform work activities. In the holocracy job descriptions are collaboratively formed by the team in order to get shared opinion. The interesting thing is people can be assigned more than one job description (which addresses the common problem of pigeon holing people). The role holder is then given authority to deliver the outcomes of his or her job description and I really like this bit – accountabilities and responsibilities are clear and properly delegated. Job Descriptions – or the work that needs to be completed is also regularly reviewed and updated to keep them relevant. Time consuming? Perhaps but then ask yourself how much time most companies waste on inefficiencies and duplication of effort.
Whilst the holocracy might not be suitable for all organisations, the lesson on job descriptions can be easily transferred. Keep them up to date and purposeful with work considerations as the priority. Whilst in some ways it might seem counter intuitive to make them about work (as opposed to the person) this can actually have an empowering impact on those doing the work, so long as accountabilities and responsibilities are properly delegated. The other lesson to take is the collaborative aspect – ask your team and colleagues to feed into creating job descriptions and do so with the company objectives in mind. Remember those doing the work will often have the best ideas about what the best ways are to complete the work.
As for those paper exercise job descriptions? I’d suggest you continue to let them gather dust!