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Are ‘flexible holidays’ the future?

BY Donald MacKinnon
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

Received wisdom tells us that the more control an employee feels that he or she has over their working life, the happier they are.

With that in mind, what is not to like about the recent announcement from Sir Richard Branson that he is letting all his salaried staff working for the Virgin parent company in the UK take holidays whenever and for as long as they like.  Happy days indeed for the hard working Virgin staff. 

Not surprisingly, the policy comes with some caveats.  Staff should only take holidays when they feel 100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date with their workload and the time off will not damage the business.  There, of course, is the rub.  How many staff faced with customer demands can ever be 100% comfortable that everything is up to date?  How many will feel compelled to sneak surreptitious looks at their email while away just to ensure that all is ok back at the ranch? 

While it may sometimes be a hassle to co-ordinate holidays with colleagues and seek a line manager’s approval to take time off, it does at least mean that some control is exerted over staff holidays by the business.  What happens, for example, if an entire department decides to take July off to jet off into the sun?  Is there really nothing the employer can do to prevent this?  Presumably staff will be expected to keep their own records in relation to the amount of time off, but what happens if there is a dispute over the amount of time taken, for example when an employee leaves the business.  

Most employees like having a set number of days that they know that they can take off each year, and (barring anything wholly untoward happening) knowing that they will not feel obliged to carry out any work while on those days off.  What employees won’t welcome is feeling that their employer is doing a favour by allowing these days out of the office. 

An unkind soul might speculate that, as a master of marketing, Virgin has simply come up with another gimmick to get headlines.

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