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Saturday 24 March 2018

Take as much vacation as you like

If you’re a fan of Sir Richard Branson you’ve heard he’s announced a “no vacation policy” on September 23 on his blog. Affected employees can take as many vacation days as they like, whenever they like and no one will be tracking how many days they take.

Now how’s that for an election year promise in TT? Whoever makes it is sure to get into office, plus it may solve that pesky problem of people calling in sick.

But seriously, has Sir Richard lost his Virginity and lowered his business standards? Will employees not take advantage and run his businesses into the ground?

Probably not. First, he’s only introduced it as a test to the 170 people in his internal staff with the intention of gradually rolling it out to his subsidiaries if all goes well.

And there’s a catch. He added, as long as people take care “… that their absence will not in any way damage the business — or for that matter their careers.”

That’s like saying, “Vacation. Sure. Take as much as you want. Just take care you’re not on vacation when something goes wrong.”

Doesn’t sound so enticing now does it?

My guess is that the unlimited vacation policy will be a non-issue to the people at Virgin except to the HR people and managers who had to keep track of vacation days. Why? Because companies like Virgin, Netflix, Facebook, Apple and Google only hire people who love doing great work. They enjoy the challenge of the work they do and these companies take care to provide the conditions to keep their fires burning.

This is why for them, working on a weekend, late at night and even on vacation is a natural part of the work experience.

These are the top performers of the global market and for them the challenge of completing exciting projects is the main reason they come to work — not vacation days, not even money. The caveat with money of course is that they are already highly paid, and they won’t move from one company to another simply because of the money.

But if it’s a non-issue why do it?

I think for companies that thrive on creativity and innovation, like Apple and Nefflix — which reportedly inspired Branson’s move — this new non-policy acknowledges the new workplace necessary for competitiveness.

It is an acknowledgment that people really are the crucial success ingredient and for people to unleash their creative potential they must be allowed the freedom to manage themselves.

It is a formal acknowledgment that in creative, innovation driven industries, managing people’s time is no longer necessary or helpful; what’s necessary is managing the conditions that allow people to contribute their potential. This policy is the beginning of a new aspirational workplace policy that says the days of managing your time are over. (Massa day ….!) We don’t care where you work, how you work, or how long you work … we only care that you do excellent work.

We grant you the freedom to use your time as you see fit to manage your personal and professional commitments. As long as you meet your commitments to the company we don’t care how much time you spend on Facebook. And we’ll pay you at or above competitive market rates.

Netflix’ public documents about its culture make it very clear that freedom is not absolute. But instead of relying on bureaucratic policy and policing, they bet that people’s basic ethical standards are usually enough to reign inappropriate behaviour in; as long as they hire high performers. Netflix thinks that granting freedom to their workers is not a reward for high performance workers; rather freedom is a necessary condition to sustain high performance.

They’re also clear that the best people earn this respect from the company. It is not given to them as a right. People who don’t perform even if they don’t take advantage of unlimited vacation won’t survive.

This is a culture of high performance. Top performers thrive on change and high performance; some people thrive in such environments and others don’t. Some people prefer process, and job security. These people won’t thrive at a Netflix or it appears, at a Virgin.

Branson’s announcement acknowledges the birth of a new workplace covenant, one where every employee is free to negotiate his or her worth based on the value they produce to the company. Every employee that works at such a company is expected to do great work and the company promises to grant them the freedom to do great work.

In a Trini context that means if you choose to work from Maracas to stimulate your creative juices then that’s absolutely no problem. The boss doesn’t care about your time, just your results.

Could that happen in Trinidad and Tobago? Of course. Circa 2120 if we’re still above sea level.

But even that may be optimistic unless our business leaders and educators start preparing now.

The goal is not unlimited vacation, the goal is worker freedom: granting workers the right to get the job done in a way that meets their needs as well as the company’s.

Peter Anthony Gales is a speaker, consultant and trainer who helps businesses realise human potential in the workplace. ambition@PeterAnthonyGales.com


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