Non-policy holiday leave: A fad or here to stay?

Where do you stand on the great holiday policy debate?

Netflix created quite a stir a few years ago when it was revealed the company operates a non-policy, which means employees can take time off when they want and for as long as they want.

The theory behind the move is that as technology has changed the way people work and live, the standard nine-to-five role with X amount of annual leave was no longer applicable. Moreover, the firm thinks workers deserve to be treated with respect and given the responsibility to micro-manage such issues, leaving Netflix free to focus on the big picture.

Virgin enters non-policy debate

Now Virgin has decided to roll out the system for its employees in both the UK and US. Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group, admitted he thought the existing holiday policies were "particularly draconian".

"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 100 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," he wrote on the Virgin blog about the non-policy.

Branson stated he thinks the idea is one of the simplest and cleverest he has heard in a long time, and provided it goes well, he will be calling for the scheme to be rolled out across all subsidiaries.

Does it really mean unlimited holidays?

While it may seem like a HR nightmare, the non-policy does not equate to unlimited holidays. In reality, workers will probably take a broadly similar amount of time off, perhaps even less, but when and with how much notice is their decision.

Netflix and Virgin are expecting people to behave responsibly and not take advantage of the situation. Instead, staff will have a much greater buy-in as they recognise they are being given flexibility not offered everywhere.

As Netflix points out, responsible people thrive on freedom and are worthy of freedom. Indeed, it thinks this motivational tool is one of the best ways to boost morale, creativity and productivity.

Moving towards a better work-life balance

Flexible working is supposed to offer a greater work-life balance for employees, but this may not be the case for the 'always-on worker'.

In Germany, some employers are making it compulsory for staff to switch off out of office hours in an effort to help them decompress and de-stress, while earlier this year French trade unions CFDT and CGC provided an "obligation to disconnect" for contract workers. It's clear that some companies prefer the more traditional working model.

Cary Cooper, a professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University Management School, told the Financial Times that he thinks the non-policies that are increasingly popular with tech firms need to be handled correctly if they are to be successful, as some staff could be left feeling alienated if it is not rolled out company-wide.

At the heart of the debate are the twin issues of performance and productivity, and provided these companies continue to deliver top-end results, fears over such policies will surely dissipate.