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Unlimited holiday may not work for recruiters

Fri, 26 Sep 2014 | By Sarah Marquet
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has told his head office staff to take as much leave as they want, but his actions have divided opinion among recruiters. 

Optionis managing director Derek Kelly described Branson’s idea as a clever PR stunt, but questioned the practicalities of implementing such a regime.

He told Recruiter the “Branson model” looked great at first glance, but on delving deeper, “the shine comes off slightly”.

Under the ‘Branson model’ the assumption is that employees would only take time off when they are completely comfortable their absence will not in any way damage the business or their careers.

“This could actually serve to dissuade employees from taking time off, by making them feel guilty for doing so,” Kelly said.

Kayman Recruitment director Elliott Manning questioned the mechanics of the model in the recruitment industry.

“It would work fine for non-sales staff … but not sales staff in my opinion. With sales staff, and in this instance recruitment consultants, their work is an ongoing process to which they cannot be successful if they have unlimited holiday,” he told Recruiter.

He added: “The only way it could work for them is if they were happy to stop working once they hit their target. As a recruitment business owner and working on generating income through sales, you need your staff there as much as possible to exceed targets, once hit, to increase the revenue consistently for cash flow and growth.”

Hunter Healthcare, however, agreed with Branson. The healthcare recruiter already offers its staff unlimited holiday, as long as the timing does not adversely affect the business.

Managing director Gavin Johnstone told Recruiter it underpinned a “culture of trust and autonomy”.

“As a result we have seen an increase in employee loyalty and productivity. If a company looks after its people, the people will look after their company. After all, it is employees that make great companies.”

However, law firm Linklaters has warned employers will need to ensure business staffing needs are adequately covered should they choose to implement such a policy, and that, like Kelly said, there could be unintended consequences.

Linklaters employment and incentives partner Jean Lovett said: “Many employees will welcome a policy that allows them to take unlimited holiday. Employers, on the other hand, will need to put in place arrangements to ensure that any such policy allows them to adequately cover the staffing needs of their business.

“Unlimited holiday policies might also have unintended consequences if employees feel under pressure not to take holiday in particular circumstances – such as, for example, if the employer’s resources are stretched or where an employee is seeking promotion.”

Branson suggested the move in his regular blog following a prompt from his daughter who highlighted a similar policy at Netflix.

  • What do you think of Richard Branson’s idea? Want to comment on this story? The Comment box is at the bottom of the page. Sorry for the glitch but just scroll right down and share your opinions!
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Is this news? Are these people commenting for real? Of course unlimited holidays won't work and not just for recruitment... in any line of work. It's pathetic that people are deeming this worthy of comment (including me)

Steve Kenny (26/09/2014 13:36:42)

This is a perfect example of the smiling knife type of management. Take the time if you need it (so you can't cope?), if it won't interfere with your work (holidays always do) etc. so you end up feeling very guilty. Do you get paid for holiday if you quit, get fired etc? Nope, this is just a clever way of getting publicity, and actually screwing the employees, while smiling.

James Robinson (26/09/2014 15:01:59)

I actually drafted a contract on this basis, a year ago, which has been popular in the US for some time now, so it's intriguing to see the practice getting a higher profile in the UK.

It's an interesting concept and on its face you can perhaps appreciate the morale benefits with treating staff in this arguably grown-up way. However, thinking it through, it's easy to anticipate the issues that could arise – not least that it could actually lead to staff taking less leave if they feel they aren't able to (given their workload) or are concerned that they may look less committed compared to the overly keen colleague sitting a few desks away who never ever takes a day off.

Seth Roe (26/09/2014 16:09:26)

Unlimited holidays is an interesting concept and it's great to see the boundaries of flexibility and staff engagement being pushed. However, recruitment is an industry where pay is closely linked to performance and I believe successful consultants would still choose to work a similar proportion of a year even if unlimited holidays were allowed. Equally, the industry would need to think very carefully about the potential impact on service levels to candidates and clients if this policy was adopted.

Sophie Tudor (30/09/2014 10:19:22)

Richard Semler's 'Seven Day Weekend' explains how flexibility with the workforce improves performance and profits. Those who doubt that unlimited holidays can work should read the book. It's all about trust. Trust however is greatly lacking in most British organisations - and communities, come to that.

Anne C (08/10/2014 17:07:42)