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Richard Branson’s Advice on Getting Unlimited Vacation Days

Richard Branson’s Advice on Getting Unlimited Vacation Days
Jeff Edwards

Speaking at the Qualtrics X4 Summit in Salt Lake City, Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson said policies allowing employees to take unlimited paid time off, boil down to simply treating workers like adults. The unconventional entrepreneur told those gathered that the benefits of allowing unlimited paid vacation are more than returned in increased productivity and loyalty.

In a public forum at the Qualtrics X4 Summit in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson offered a harsh critique of the way U.S. workers are treated. His comments came during an onstage interview at the symposium which also featured former U.S. President Barack Obama and actor Ashton Kutcher.

“The amount of holiday that people get when they work for American companies, I think, is something of a disgrace,” Branson said in remarks first reported by Quartz’s Lila MacLellan. “How are you going to find any real time with your children or your partner, real quality time if you have, really, no holiday time?”

The fiery business mogul told the nearly 10,000 business leaders gathered that all of Virgin Group’s more than 400 companies are encouraged to offer unlimited paid vacation time. He said that the benefits returned in employee loyalty and increased productivity far exceed the cost of allowing workers to simply take time off when needed.

Branson has a storied history of turning the unconventional and often controversial into wildly successful business practices. Last year, he announced that Virgin Atlantic would become the first U.K-based carrier to refuse to allow government officials to use the airline’s flights to deport detainees from the country. This summer, Virgin Atlantic will operate a first-of-its-kind “Pride Flight” (complete with an onboard drag performance, celebrity guests and an all LGBTQ crew) from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to celebrate pride day events in New York City. Branson made headlines after abruptly declining to do business with the current regime in Saudi Arabia following credible reports of the state-sanctioned torture and assassination of a Washington Post reporter.  More recently, however, only after caving to public pressure did Virgin Atlantic finally agree to drop an anachronistic requirement that flight attendants wear full-face makeup while on duty.

Despite Branson’s endorsement, it doesn’t seem likely that unlimited paid vacation policies will become widely adopted as standard corporate policy any time in the near future. For those in the audience whose employers don’t have the same management style as the famously adventurous Branson, the business magnate had some advice.

“If you feel that your company is not behaving in a way I’ve spoken about, by all means quote this interview,” Branson offered. “But try to get change within your company and ask the company to experiment for a year and see how it goes.”

[Source: Flickr/Hardo Müller]

View Comments (11)

11 Comments

  1. bryanb

    March 11, 2019 at 9:07 pm

    At least in the USA, evidence seems to suggest that workers take less vacation at companies that offer unlimited paid time off, compared to those that designate a specific entitlement. What would ostensibly seems like a pro-worker policy actually exerts pressure on staff not to look like they’re taking advantage.

  2. amanuensis

    amanuensis

    March 12, 2019 at 7:54 am

    My employer switched to “unlimited” paid time off a few years ago. I liked it better the old way. I guess it is just my personality-type. I like bright lines and dislike ambiguity.

    Also, back when there was a defined number of days, I felt like I was leaving money on the table if I did not use some once I was approaching my employer’s maximum accrual boundary. I think that I take fewer vacation days now because there is no “use-by” expiration date on “unlimited.”

  3. Fine Art Landscape Photographer

    March 12, 2019 at 11:55 am

    He is just another one of the elites where he is telling you what your company should do but does not actually do it himself.

  4. Donsyb

    March 13, 2019 at 8:20 am

    @Fine Art – what does that mean? He specifically says his businesses do that. And most UK businesses get significantly more vacation days than US businesses.

  5. Okijames

    March 13, 2019 at 8:24 am

    “Unlimited Vacation” is an accounting scheme used by companies to eliminate the liability of accrued vacation from their books.

    Example assuming an 8hr work day: If you make $50/hr and have 10 days (80hrs) of accrued vacation, the company owes you (has a liability of) $4000.

    The above is for a single employee. Now take the average hourly rate for a company multiplied by the average accrued vacation of all the employees, and you can imaging the total liability a company might have. No imagine being able to eliminate such a liability by switching to “unlimited vacation” and you can see why companies and Branson are so gung-ho about it.

  6. jjmoore

    March 13, 2019 at 8:48 am

    Though I disagree with liberal bias (and dropping names like Obama and Kutcher), I do lend credence to Branson’s evaluation of the US workplace and time-off policy. I feel he is on point with the vacation policy proposed, and my own productivity would not decrease as a result.

  7. John Aldeborgh

    March 13, 2019 at 9:04 am

    While Sir Branson is an interesting (also hugely narcissistic) man, he seems to have turned his attentions to politics and political activism, but always drawing attention to himself. I have no issue with unlimited vacation, I know a number of people who work in companies that have this policy. The reality is the employees in these companies take less time off than if they worked at companies where the PTO (vacation/sick) time was well defined because there is social pressure to produce, this is the increased productivity Branson speaks of in the article. The bottomline is goods and services come from peoples labor, someone needs to put in the hours. When a team member isn’t pulling their weight the others on the team are directly penalized and this manifests itself in the social pressure on the offending (vacationing) individual. As someone already noted, there is a meaningful percentage of the population who want the rules clearly spelled out, they are uncomfortable with fuzzy lines. Branson, who is always concerned with his reputation, speaks as he sees himself, a rebel and progressive. As a businessman he’s very smart, he sees business trends, is a risk taker and surrounds himself with very talented people, whom he gives full control. Don’t think for a minute his companies are any more generous to employees than other companies within their same industries, the laws of economics apply to the various Virgin Companies just as they apply to his competitors.

  8. ckfred

    March 13, 2019 at 9:24 am

    I worked at a place that had no set vacation policy. I took barely any vacation. When you’re single, don’t have a girlfriend, most of your friends are married, and you live with your parents, you really can’t much vacation. Even after I started dating my wife, I took a fraction of the vacation days that the partners took.

    But, some people simply enjoy working. A friend of my father’s retired at age 65 after about 40 years with the company. He had more than 100 unused vacation days. He much preferred taking a day here or there to go fishing over taking a trip.

    And some people use vacation for things that aren’t fun, like painting, remodeling, landscaping, and other home projects. After a vacation like that, my father would go back to work achey, tired, and frustrated, because a project was more work than expected.

  9. Taggsflyer

    March 13, 2019 at 11:18 am

    What about paid leave? The US is well behind the rest of the world on this.

  10. A Lyford

    March 13, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Unlimited paid vacation? What prevents someone from never coming back to work? 🙂 LOL

  11. Snuggs

    March 14, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Donsyb seems to have misread….

    Branson: “all of Virgin Group’s more than 400 companies are encouraged to offer unlimited paid vacation time.”

    One can only surmise that there is no such global policy. In fact, there is no evidence in his statement that any of the companies actually offer it.

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