Richard Branson gives employees unlimited vacation leave – should you?

The business world is buzzing with the news that Richard Branson has announced unlimited vacation leave. From Branson’s blogI’m delighted to say that we have introduced this same (non) policy at our parent company in both the UK and the US, where vacation policies can be particularly draconian. Assuming it goes as well as expected, we will encourage all our subsidiaries to follow suit, which will be incredibly exciting to watch”.

Branson says he was inspired by Netflix – “simply stated, the policy-that-isn’t permits all salaried staff to take off whenever they want for as long as they want. There is no need to ask for prior approval and neither the employees themselves nor their managers are asked or expected to keep track of their days away from the office. 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, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel a hundred per cent 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!

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It sounds like an employee’s paradise – no need for leave forms, or accruals, just take the time when you need it, as long as your work is up to date.

I am a big fan of Richard Branson as an entrepreneur, but I do believe that businesses need to consider carefully before they emulate him on this. Absolutely, it can work, but you need to have the right culture for it.

If you have any of the following underlying assumptions in your company culture, unlimited vacation is not likely to succeed. Does your culture expect your people to:

  • Avoid mistakes, work long hours and keep on top of everything, all the time.
  • Compete with each other and work against others to fight their way to the top.
  • Take charge, always be in control and make autocratic decisions
  • Gain status and influence by being critical, looking for flaws and challenging others ideas.

If it does then people are not going to take leave unless they absolutely have to. This culture creates workaholics and micromanagers, and taking leave will be frowned on. Or if people DO take leave they risk their career by “not being around when we needed you”, or “you weren’t here, so the big project went to someone more committed”. You are likely to end up with burned out employees who NEVER take any time off.

Or does your culture expect people to:

  • Avoid being blamed for mistakes, to do as they are told and to clear all decisions with someone.
  • Conform, follow rules, do the right thing and make a good impression.
  • Agree with and be liked by others.

This culture is very “nice”, we all get along and have great relationships. But this creates two potential scenarios; people who don’t take time off because they don’t want to let the team down, or add to anyone else’s workload by not being available. If you have a small team and you take time off, someone else needs to pick up your work, right? And “I couldn’t do that to the team”. Or you get people taking lots of time off and work not getting done, because managers are ineffective at setting good goals and performance indicators and managing people who don’t meet them.

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So what does your culture need to look like for this to work?

  • High trust, across the board, with everyone.
  • Employees who are highly motivated and engaged with their work.
  • People have a proven track record of effectively managing their time and workload.
  • Your people are supportive, constructive and sensitive to others needs.
  • Everyone has autonomy and empowerment in the way they choose to work.
  • You also need to ensure that no one person is critical – that you have at least one back up person for every role.

Is it working well for other businesses? Yes. But they got the culture right first.

What do you think about unlimited holiday leave – yay or nay? Let us know your thoughts as an employer or employee in the comments below!

Rosalind Cardinal is The Leadership Alchemist and Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, an Australian consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.

Visit to pick up your complimentary copy of Ros’ e-guide to Leading Change. Written for managers who are tasked with leading organisational change, the guide presents practical steps to leading successful change. Ros also runs the Shaping Change Inner Circle, an exclusive membership network for driven leaders around the world who are passionate about making a difference, building successful businesses and leveraging the talents and skills of their people.

Photo credit: Eason C