Richard Branson is getting a bit of press at the moment for introducing an unlimited leave policy, apparently having heard about something similar at Netflix.
More leave is something that’s having a bit of a groundswell at the moment as the balance between work and life has become uneven for many. Whether it’s what you do, always-on gadgets or something else, people need more leave to get a bit of down-time.
Introducing a policy like this always has people worried. Will people abuse it? How do I keep some level of control? What if everyone takes leave at the same time? What if someone takes more leave than others? What will the others think? How do I keep a sense of fairness? What if everyone takes leave all the time and I’m paying people to be on holidays? How long will it take before I go broke?
These are all good questions. But it’s not really any different to introducing a generous returns or customer satisfaction policy. In reality, only a very small percentage of people end up abusing it. There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no point in making it hard for the majority who don’t abuse it by focussing on the very small number who do by having endless conditions.
So what do you do if you want to go down this path? Before doing anything, there are some important findings on what people think about their work. It turns out that many people don’t like their work, while others actively hate it. It’s probably the case that if you introduce an unlimited leave policy that a lot of people will take a lot of leave. Not because they want to abuse the system, but because they don’t like their work and don’t want to do it.
Before you do anything, take a look at what it is people are doing every day. Is it purposeful and meaningful? Are they doing something that makes a clear and important contribution to the business’s goals? Does it fulfil their own ambitions? And what about their managers? Do they grow and mentor their people? Or micromanage them within an inch of their lives? What’s the culture like? Do you feel you have to watch everyone like a hawk because they’ll slack off?
It’s not just a matter of introducing such a policy and thinking it will all work out. These fundamentals are important to get right, first. Then comes how people self-manage their work. If we’re asking them to self-manage their leave, are they already in a position to self-manage their work? Do your people have clear goals and KPIs? Do they have the authority to take action to correct things? Is feedback on performance timely and accurate? Are there shared KPIs that bind a specific team together, as well as binding different teams together along an organisation-wide process?
If you want to make the transition from measuring time as the determinant of people’s performance, such as time spent at work, time spent working on the weekend, then people’s performance needs to be measured in terms of value created. Then people can manage their own leave based on a conscious – and conscience – decision about whether they’ve done their bit before they take time off as a reward. They also need to think about how their absence will affect others in achieving their goals – and that’s where the shared KPIs come in.
There are lots of moving parts in your organisation to connect up before you embark on something like this. Get those things right and you could end up with an amazing workplace.