In South Africa, it’s law to give employees 21 consecutive days of leave per year, excluding public holidays. But if you were to give your employees unlimited leave, what would the net effect be?
For companies like Virgin, who have scrapped their annual leave policy, the answer is counterintuitive: they’re finding that their employees are more productive, and they actually end up taking less leave than before.
In his 2014 book, The Virgin Way: Everything I know about leadership, Virgin CEO Richard Branson explains how they permit all salaried staff to take time off whenever they want, for as long as they want. “There’s 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,” he says. “It’s 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!”
Virgin use the same logic that they apply to flexi-time, reasoning that employees who manage their own time in terms of daily working hours tend to be more responsible and autonomous – and therefore more productive. In this way, they place accountability on the employee and their individual relationships with other team members, rather than taking this role on as a company. In this environment, the emphasis is on what people get done, rather than how many hours or days they work.
Netflix, the US on-demand video streaming service, has adopted a similar approach to Virgin, where they allow their employees to take as much leave as they want during the year. They, too, have found that this has had no negative impact on productivity, and people end up taking less leave as they feel more loyal to the company, and are more driven to perform at a high level. Because the focus is on output and results rather than how and when they do their job, there’s less micromanagement, which makes for happier employees.
One potential downside to this approach is that employees may end up taking less leave out of fear of looking lazy, which can lead to burnout and exhaustion. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management showed that employees who take leave each year have higher job satisfaction and are more productive – and they’re also likely to take fewer sick days.
For a company wanting its employees to be loyal and productive, the ideal answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, where employees can choose when and how much leave to take, in a way that keeps them accountable for that time off without taking advantage of the situation. At the same time, employees who are scared of taking time off should be encouraged to do so – after all, the more refreshed, energised and motivated an employee is, the more valuable they are to your organisation.
Provided by Fedhealth.