Virgin Group founder Richard Branson recently introduced unlimited vacation time for his employees in both the U.K. and the U.S. In a blog post announcing the decision, he described it as "one of the simplest and smartest initiatives" he has seen in a long time.
In support of the move, Branson pointed to a similar Netflix initiative that focuses on "what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked." Here at The Motley Fool, we applaud both Virgin and Netflix. Our "unlimited vacation" policy is a very popular part of our award-winning culture that has been crafted over the past 21 years.
The end of productivity?
Don't people take advantage of the unlimited vacation time? That's the No. 1 question we hear from folks who work in offices with more traditional vacation policies. Surprisingly, the answer is an emphatic "no." Here's why.
Our unlimited vacation policy succeeds because people are more productive when they're happy. Our employees – whom we prefer to call Fools -- are passionate about their work across five countries, and they're energized by having the freedom to manage their own time. It's OK if you want to drop everything and go to France. We can't wait to see the pictures on Facebook. Really, we mean it.
What's the catch?
Some people actually believe this is some sort of corporate conspiracy, but they're wrong. Here's how this works for us.
We trust that Fools know when their deadlines are, when their meetings take place, and what projects they have coming up. We know that, if they want or need to take time off, they'll make plans with their team to ensure their work is covered. And while truly disconnecting from work while on vacation is important, it's still easy for Fools to stay connected with the office remotely if they must.
But what if someone's work is so essential, they can never get away? We believe that it's important for every business to have a back-up person for every role. That's why we instituted the "Fool's Errand" program. Once a month, someone is randomly selected in a raffle at an all-hands meeting, and the lucky Fool then has to take two of the next four weeks off with no contact with the office. The winner gets some time off, and we get to learn where our single points of failure are. But no Fool has to wait to win a raffle. Truly, everyone is encouraged to take time off, and they can take as much as they need.
The main issue here is creating a culture of trust, which we believe is the foundation of our unique policies and benefits. Our head of customer service, Sam Cicotello, wrote that "Trust in the workplace leads to faster decisions, higher collaboration, and greater autonomy." She wrote: "There is a business purpose behind this culture of trust. Obviously it makes our Fools happy, improves recruiting, and leads to great employee retention and a healthy office environment."
People crave autonomy at work, and giving your employees greater control over when they can take time off will go such a long way in creating a happier, more focused company. Our numbers speak for themselves – employee turnover is extremely low, and we've been top-rated and nationally recognized as a great place to work. Indeed, The Motley Fool was recognized by Glassdoor as the best medium-sized company to work for in America.
No, the sky won't fall if you empower your employees to make their own decisions about how they work best. Richard Branson's new vacation initiative is an extremely smart idea. And Sir Richard's welcome to call us anytime for more advice about building an outstanding culture.