Employees at Branson's Virgin Group, which oversees some 50,000 employees in over 400 individual companies, now will enjoy unlimited vacation if they work at any of the company's main branches in New York, London, Geneva or Sydney. That's right: no restrictions.
"The amount of holidays people are given in the States is dreadful," Branson added in a CNN interview. "How can you find time to get to know your children if you're working with the very little holiday time you're given?"
He's right. Unlike virtually every other country on the planet, the U.S. has zero laws regulating vacation time. About 1 in 4 U.S. workers receives no employer-funded vacation time, and the less money they earn, the less likely they are to snag even a single paid vacation day.
There's a catch, of course: This policy, however, isn't as generous as it might seem. While Branson might intend the policy to expand the overall number of days employees can take off, it could also be read as what Bloomberg View's Leonid Bershidsky calls a "thinly veiled threat":
There is no need 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. 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 a hundred 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!
On the one hand, this sounds pretty good. As long as the job gets done, then taking large amounts of vacation shouldn't be an issue. But on the other hand, Branson is removing the safeguards that prevent managers from determining the team isn't "up to date on every project" enough, perhaps making it impossible for certain members of staff to conveniently schedule a vacation.
That's the paradox of vacation policies: While it's generally considered good practice to time vacations so that they don't disrupt projects or the overall workflow of a company, they're put in place to ensure that employees have set guidelines on how much time they can take off each year without falling into the (arbitrary) bad graces of their superiors.
And even if you offer employees generous vacation allowances, many simply won't take it. Somewhere between around 14% to a staggering 50% of vacation time goes unused, perhaps because many employees fear not meeting goals or competition from coworkers. Overworked Americans worry that taking full advantage of their allotted vacations will lead to pink slips.
While Branson's employees may benefit greatly from the new arrangement, the solution for all American workers remains joining every other developed country and implementing paid vacation laws. People deserve vacation, whether their boss is a hip, globetrotting, skydiving billionaire or a penny-pinching Scrooge.