Sir Richard Branson, Mr Virgin and Rebel Billionaire, announced on his blog on September 23, in an article titled “Why we’re letting virgin staff take as much holiday as they want”, that he would give his staff unlimited leave with the aim of raising staff morale, creativity and productivity. He wrote that he had decided to embrace the unlimited leave policy after learning about it from Netflix, the American streaming video market leader.

The policy permits all salaried staff to take leave whenever they want and for as often as they like. They don’t have to ask for prior approval and neither the employees themselves nor their managers are asked or expected to keep track of their days away from the office.

The catch?

It will only apply to 170 staff in the UK and US. That’s 170 out of approximately 50,000 Virgin Group employees.

The employee will decide if and when he or she wants to take a few hours, days or weeks off. It is assumed that they can do this only when:

  • They are confident all projects are on time
  • They and their team are on top of their work
  • Taking leave will not damage the business
  • Taking leave will not damage their careers

Can unlimited leave actually work in Australia?

For the above conditions to apply, in reality, the unlimited leave policy can only apply to jobs of certain nature and employees of certain pedigree.

For example, it will be very challenging for the majority of customer service jobs, such as flight attendants and pilots, to be able to take unlimited leave, because the nature of their jobs requires them to be present at certain days and at certain times.

On the other hand, a project-based job, such as a project manager, will theoretically be able to take unlimited leave as long as the project is completed on time without any compromise in quality or other measurable standards.

Fundamentally, the vast majority of corporations require employees’ work output to be measured, verified and valued. Time-based work output, such as the number of hours worked from 9 am to 5 pm, is an easy and familiar way to satisfy this requirement. Moreover, requiring workers to be working at a fixed location within a fixed time range allows managers to monitor and assess their work output.

If companies can measure, verify and value an employee’s work output easily and concisely with other indicators other than time, then it will be possible to implement an unlimited leave policy without affecting business operations and performance. Technological advancement, such as software and processes that allows workers to collaborate, track time and get work done without being physically in the same place at the same time also makes such a policy increasingly feasible for businesses.

That said, companies should beware the loss of common goods, or in other words, the benefits of having people show up to work at the same time. These include:

  • Participation in a collegial environment
  • Face-to-face collaboration and mentoring
  • Building of social relationships leading to a stronger team culture

Is this a clever marketing strategy?

Some would argue the announcement is simply a well-timed marketing ploy executed to perfection and in line with Virgin’s brand personality and content marketing strategy.

The Rebel, a fundamental brand archetype, is described as a harbinger of fresh perspectives and new outlooks, and a rule breaker who is not afraid to question the status quo and push the envelope. Known for experimentation and provocative thoughts, Rebel brands are also recognised for their bold leadership, courage and power.

Brand Archetype Rebel

With this “shock” announcement on his Virgin blog, the image-savvy Branson has generated days of front-page headlines and free media buzz while ticking every box in the Rebel checklist. By stating the policy as a privilege exclusive to about 0.34% of the entire Virgin workforce with clearly justified criteria, he has also taken steps to protect himself and the company brand from any potential employee backlash.

As a digital agency in Melbourne, not only do we help our clients discover and enhance their brand archetypes, we also create digital strategies and content marketing strategies around their brand personalities and communicate to their customers in a way that reinforces their brand values and points of difference. Knowing who you are and being true to yourself is one of the most important things to remember when setting out your digital strategy. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to be everything to everyone. We can all learn from Sir Branson!

By Yuan Wang

Yuan is Creative Director at Yump, a made-in-Melbourne digital agency with a user-centred focus on digital strategy, interaction design and tailored web and application development. Yuan enjoys the privilege of having unlimited leave. But with privilege, comes responsibility.