09/26/2014 01:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Can Small Businesses Afford to Ditch Holiday Policies Like Virgin?


Sir Richard Branson, Virgin's Founder, has recently announced a new policy for select employees in the US and UK Virgin offices: no more standard holiday policy.

It is typical for workers in the U.S. to have a set amount of vacation and sick time (usually about 2-3 weeks), and that doesn't necessarily mean that that time off will be paid -- it's just a set amount of time that can be spent out of office.

Compared to most other industrialized countries, the U.S. has the smallest amount of vacation time available to employees. Places like Australia, Germany, France, Brazil, and Finland all guarantee employees 4-6 weeks off.

So it seems Sir Richard Branson has decided to follow their example and hop on board the vacation-celebratory train.

Though he's only trying out the policy with 170 employees at first, he is allowing staff to take off as much or as little time as they like, provided they feel comfortable leaving the office for the amount of time gone, and all necessary work gets done. Upon the declaration of this new policy, I can't help but ask a couple questions.

Will employees take advantage of this opportunity?

Of course you have to fear the possibility of employees completely abusing this policy. I can see it now: employees barely coming in more than twice a week, and 3-month long vacations a couple times a year. Though, that's where trust comes in. You'd have to not only trust that you hired the right employees, but you'd also have to trust in the work load you've been distributing -- a work load that is demanding enough to require employees come in to the office regularly, at least five times a week, but not so demanding that vacation is impossible.

Or will they be too hesitant to even give it a try?

Conversely, I can see employees being so hyper conscious of getting all of their work done that they don't take advantage of the policy at all. Putting the decision to take time off completely in their hands, without limits, gives them quite a lot of responsibility, and requires self-awareness. Additionally, if an employee takes a vacation, the point is to relax and explore, not to constantly check their phone and email to ensure all of the work they left behind gets done.

How could this policy be applied to small business (or should it)?

I can see this policy being effective with larger corporations (like Virgin). I can see it creating a strong relationship between managers and employees with a newfound sense of trust, as well as improving morale and promoting creativity. However, these corporations are well-oiled machines that have their business figured out backwards and forwards. They have a little bit of wiggle room to experiment with things like this, simply because of their already established success.

That being said, I worry a bit more for the small businesses trying on a policy like this. Small businesses tend to have smaller, and, depending on the age of the business, newer staffs. Implementing a no-limits-vacation policy could disrupt the slightly more fragile small business structure.

Though for the small businesses that would like to give it a try, here's what I would suggest: give it a trial period. Simply inform your employees that you're going to try the policy for the year, or however long you decide, and at the end of the trial period, you'll evaluate what it did, or didn't do, for the health of the business. Additionally, I wouldn't advise even trying out the policy without having been in business at least 10 years- you should have everything down to a science before trying something so drastically new. Finally, only participate with a group of employees that you know and trust; people that want to see your business succeed as much as you do. You never know, the resulting dedicated and newly refreshed employees could be the very push your business needs to grow.