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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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Virgin: why we implemented unlimited holiday

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In response to Richard Branson’s decision to offer Virgin Management staff unlimted holiday, we caught up with Sharron Pomells, Head of People Operations at Virgin Management, to find out more about the policy, the inspiration behind its introduction, the ongoing challenges of running the scheme, and what they have in store for the future.

What was the impetus behind introducing unlimited leave? Where did the seed of the idea come from internally and what benefits did Virgin foresee?

At Virgin Management – the investment and brand licensing office at the heart of the Virgin group – we’ve always promoted flexible working conditions which have revolutionised how, where and when we do our jobs and unlimited leave was a natural progression on from this.

The idea of unlimited leave has been around for a while now in the US, but the impetus for how this type of initiative could work for us and our people came from Holly Branson. Holly believed that if normal hours no longer applied in the workplace, nor should a strict annual leave policy.

Richard Branson was supportive of the idea and Josh Bayliss, our CEO at Virgin Management, made the decision to implement the policy.

Richard Branson was supportive of the idea and Josh Bayliss, our CEO at Virgin Management, made the decision to implement the policy. By giving our people more opportunities to spend valuable time out of the office, we’re hopeful that we will happier, and more empowered, so we will all benefit from increased creativity, productivity and build on the fantastic Virgin culture that already exists.

How did you implement this policy and what lessons did you learn? How would you do it differently if you did it again?

A key focus of the People team is to find policies which enhance the lives of our people and empower them to have a great life inside and outside of the workplace. It took around a year to discuss how this initiative could be implemented taking into account all of the legal implications. Internal communication was a key focus for us.

We ran a small pilot internally to see how the initiative might work in practice and then created a guide full of the FAQ’s that came out of the pilot. It was essential that everyone across the company understood the policy, how it would work for them, and giving them the confidence to make the most of it.

We believe in empowering our people and from the outset, it was clear that this initiative would be based on trust.

What are the ongoing challenges/things to think about and what changes have you made since the scheme was implemented?

We believe in empowering our people and from the outset, it was clear that this initiative would be based on trust, and also making sure that people were 100% sure about the objectives and deliverables within their role. Given our culture and other initiatives, we felt comfortable with this approach.

It’s still early days for unlimited leave but it has been fascinating to see the reaction to our decision to adopt this approach. We hope it’s one that benefits our people at Virgin Management  There hasn’t been a need to adapt the policy to date but we’re coming up to our one year anniversary which will be the perfect opportunity to reflect on what has worked well to date.

What are your plans for expanding/developing this benefit in future so it delivers more benefit to the company and employees?

At Virgin Management we pride ourselves on our flexible working policies and act as an incubator to try new approaches to working. The policy currently applies to teams working at Virgin Management in the UK and the US and we will be measuring its impact in the months and years to come – we don’t have any plans to extend the policy beyond those teams as yet.

There are many trading companies within the Virgin Group and the decision to follow our lead is entirely up to each individual company.

Any other tips you’d give to HR directors looking to implement this scheme? You’re leading the way, along with Netflix, in this space and other companies will soon follow suit. What are the secrets to making it work?

The secret to making this work is trusting your employees to do their best for the business and the teams around them. The policy permits all salaried staff to take as much annual leave, in agreement with their manager as long as this doesn’t impact their work or their team.

Communicating with colleagues and managers is paramount for this to work.

Communicating with colleagues and managers is paramount for this to work, as well as making sure that objectives and deliverables are clearly communicated. In order to make sure that people are taking the statutory minimum as well as monitoring the overall success of the initiative, we have been tracking annual leave over the last year which will help us measure the impact of this.

The bottom line is that for most people they will only take annual leave when they feel comfortable that they are up to date on their projects and that their absence will not in any way affect their team or  the business.

What about disadvantages? How do you mitigate those?

It’s really important to us to educate our new starters to make sure that they are aware of how this works and we’ve made it part of our induction process. We’re yet to see any disadvantages of our unlimited leave policy. Our people have welcomed the initiative and really appreciate the trust that we’ve placed in them. Most of all it gives people the opportunity to shape their work / home balance in a way that suits their lifestyle.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence
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