I’M AN OFFICE MARTYR, GET ME OUT OF HERE
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
Is it time for unlimited holidays? How much holiday would you take?
The last “trend” in the corporate world is to give employees the power to choose how much leave they take. LinkedIn and Virgin are the latest companies to empower their teams with the very thing high performing teams crave – choice and autonomy. Gary Vaynerchuk (Gary Vee) also does it with his 600+ employees.
And we all know that the more autonomy an employee feels (the ability to influence what they do and when) the higher their level of motivation. Even knowing it’s an option, regardless of whether they actually take any additional leave, is a huge motivator for some.
And just knowing they can doesn’t mean they will.
So will it stop those who martyr themselves to the company, who never take all their holiday, and make sure you know about it at every opportunity …?
How does it work in reality?
As Sir Richard Branson says, when done honestly, cleanly and with the intent to empower employees, this is a fantastic way to enable your team to own their goals and own their results.
Why? Because it shows incredible trust. Trust is built up by first giving trust – the trusted become trustworthy. And when teams trust each other, performance accelerates. Trust is the first stepping stone to a truly functional team; the foundation of the ‘circle of safety’ that Simon Sinek reminds us is so important in Leaders Eat Last.
It is left to the individual employee to determine how much time they take off – a few hours, a day, a week or even a month. But the employee needs to be mindful of the workload and the results. As an employee, if you’re 100% comfortable that you (and the team) will be better off rather than worse off by taking the time – then take the time.
Diversity is being invited and going to a party; Inclusion is being an active member of the party-planning committee [and choosing the playlist, dancing … ]
From my corporate days, this was exactly how I did things. I worked all the hours god sends to get projects done and bring in the results. And once delivered (normally over-delivered), when there was a quieter spell, I’d take the opportunity to leave work a little earlier, or take a day or two out. Recharging the batteries was better for me and for everyone else; I was more productive when I returned, refreshed. And I didn’t feel like I’d sold my soul to the devil. I was ready to give my all again.
Likewise, when my team came to me with an issue they needed to sort at home or if they’d hit the wall, the answer was always “of course, go!” because I knew they would make sure that any work that needed to be done, was done. They were not just there to warm the seats; they were focused on the delivery and our clients. And they delivered. Every time.
Will it help you attract new employees? Well, it’s an attractive perk, one that will no doubt attract high performing employees who may not have previously considered you as an employer of choice before. And it doesn’t hurt as a retention tool as well. Unlimited leave vs another company offering 10 or 20 days? I know which one I’d pick.
A hidden benefit may also come with not having to accrue holiday time on your balance sheet – something your HR professional can help you work out.
But can you police it if you give away all the ‘control’ of the leave process? Communication is key (the idea is not that you walk into a completely empty office with no idea where anyone is!) and the reality is you can still let someone go who is abusing the “unlimited holiday” benefit, because if the work isn’t being done, then the agreement is they shouldn’t be taking the holiday.
So what are the issues?
Will it be abused?
Sure, somebody might give it a go. But for one, it will soon weed out those who aren’t a fit for your culture. Those that do “take advantage” without making sure the work and everyone else is taken care of. They are culturally negative whichever way you slice it and they need to go if they don’t appreciate how taking the time inappropriately is contrary to the values. The policy has done you a favour, because the team member was likely to be leaving their colleagues to do the heavy lifting on a day-to-day basis anyway; this has simply highlighted what was already going on.
As this Business Insider article says: This is how Richard Branson put it when he announced Virgin Group’s unlimited vacation policy last year:
“It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business — or, for that matter, their careers!”
Those that abuse that trust – well, there won’t be a job to come back to.
Will you have more HR issues to deal with?
Yes, in the short term as everyone finds their feet with this one. But when you hire, fire and performance manage on your vision and values, you will find that your employees will work as a team and manage this amongst themselves. It means your employees will have to think and not just do – and that means the will grow.
Will everyone get the concept?
In Gary Vee’s case, he has mandated a minimum amount of holiday (3 weeks) that people absolutely have to take as many couldn’t get their heads around how it worked – with no framework for right and wrong, they were scared of getting it wrong, so did nothing. He now makes sure they take their leave, and they are better for it.
Will it impact productivity?
Yes! But in a good way. As counterintuitive as it may appear at first glance, productivity is likely to increase, not decrease because of the holiday being taken. As with any new program, there is an initial burst of increased productivity due to a newly engaged workforce and those who can immediately see the benefits find renewed vigour. And not everyone will actually take more holiday.
Keep the policy front and centre and you should see that sustained into the long term as the health benefits of a well-rested team kick in.
Will the office martyrs still not take all their leave and still tell you about it every opportunity they can?
Probably yes, because they get their needs for significance, certainty and connection met by it. But you can handle that now you know …
We love this type of innovation, but you’ve likely figured out that unlimited holiday should not be introduced in isolation – it needs to be part of an holistic approach. A bit like buying a foosball table and sticking it in an unused meeting room, on its own it will not yield the right results. You need to get the foundations of your culture right first otherwise it could be greeted with cynicism and erosion of trust, breakdown of team communications and ultimately abuse.