When Richard Branson makes an announcement, he makes waves. There is a whole community of writers who have dedicated countless articles and thousands of words to detailing every move that this entrepreneurial giant makes, and rightly so--Branson rarely makes a movement without shaking things up across industries. His recent decision to evolve the corporate vacation policy is no different; this particular shift has caused many to cry trickery, including this article on Time, which caught my attention.
My own personal stance on the working from home movement has changed over time, as I discussed in a previous post, but I have always stood in favor of supporting employee health, growth, and well-being, and in that sense I agree with the move to evolve the concept of vacation.
The issue lies in the current conception of vacation days, as either a solitary respite from the strain of hard work, or as the nest egg awaiting any departing employee. This was never the intended usage of vacation days, but because employees were never properly incentivized to utilize these days for their intended purpose, negative behaviors were allowed to take root. Vacation days should never be squirreled away at the cost of employee health; they are meant to be an invigorating and therapeutic departure from the daily grind. Like a sabbatical, vacation time should allow every employee time to rest and recharge. These rested employees are more engaged and more attentive, and they are less likely to burn out than the workaholics who never give themselves time to take a break.
Now, there are some perfectly natural fears associated with a perceived paradigm shift like this, but it is important to consider the heart of the worry. When people on both the employee and the management side of the equation balk at the notion of unlimited vacation, what they are expressing is a lack of trust in the culture and personnel to support the intent of this change. The way to combat that is to put time and resources into hiring the best people and crafting a company culture which is connected and supportive.
If you can trust the people you work with, you'll never have to feel the pressure to chain yourself to a desk. If you trust the people who work for you to behave like adults, you'll never have to fear they are taking advantage of you. I'm not suggesting you be blind to issues, or inattentive at work; you should absolutely deal with problem cases as they arise, so that the company does not suffer as a whole. But if you have put in the necessary time and effort into hiring good people and placing them in a cultivated company culture, then unlimited vacation days can serve the purpose it was intended for: keeping people healthy, happy, and human.