Freedom at Work

Freedom at Work

How’d you like to take as much vacation as you like, whenever you like, and not have to worry about anybody at work counting the days you’ve taken?

Well my hero Richard Branson announced on Wednesday that this is the new vacation policy.  It’s in fact a “no vacation policy” policy.richard branson 2

What’s the catch?  He added, as long as people take care  “… that their absence will not in any way damage the business — or for that matter their careers.”

That’s like saying,


SUURRRE!.  Take as much as you want. 

Just take care you’re not on vacation and something goes wrong. ”

Doesn’t sound so enticing now does it?

My guess is that it probably won’t make a helluva lot of difference to the people at Virgin except to the HR people and managers who had to keep track of vacation days.  Why?

High performers aren’t motivated by time off

Companies like Virgin, Netflix, Facebook and Google only hire  people who love doing great work.  They enjoy the challenge of the work they do and these companies take care to provide the conditions to keep their fires burning.

This is why for them, working on a weekend, late at night and even on vacation is not a big thing.   Many of them have to be reminded to take their vacation—and it’s not because of political pressure to work.

For these people the challenge of completing exciting projects makes them come to work.

Why do it?

I think for companies that thrive on creativity and innovation, like Virgin and Netflix which reportedly, inspired Branson’s move, this new non-policy is an acknowledgment of the new workplace necessary for competitiveness.

It is an acknowledgment that people really are the crucial ingredient and for people to unleash their creative potential they must be allowed the freedom to manage themselves.  It is a formal acknowledgment that in creative, innovation driven industries managing people’s time is no longer necessary or even important, what’s necessary is managing the conditions that allow people to contribute their potential.

You are free to work as you please

working at beachThis announcement is the beginning of a new workplace covenant that says the days of managing your time are over.  We don’t care where you work, how you work, or how long you work … we only care that you do excellent work.

We grant you the freedom to use your time as you see fit to manage your personal and professional commitments.  As long as you meet your commitments to the company we don’t care how much time you spend on Facebook.

Within limits of course

Of course there are guidelines and unspoken ethical boundaries.  It doesn’t means you can lie, cheat and steal to get the job done.white collar crime

Netflix’ public culture statements make it very clear that freedom is not absolute.  Netflix thinks that granting freedom to their workers is not a  reward for high performance workers, but is in fact a necessary to sustain it.

They’re also clear that the best people earn this respect from the company.  It is not given to them as a right.   People who don’t perform even if they don’t take advantage of unlimited vacation won’t survive.

Top performers thrive on change and high performance; some people thrive in such environments and others don’t.  Some people prefer process, and job security.

Freedom comes at a cost

Just like casual dress has become normal, it will become the norm that people have control of when they work, where they work and when they don’t work.  But this freedom comes at a cost.

The workers who enjoy this freedom must perform.

They are expected to do great work.

The irony

The irony is that people granted an ‘unlimited vacation’ are less likely to use it, and the people who salivate at the thought of it won’t get it.

For top performers, especially in creative fields, an unlimited vacation policy means freedom AT work to do work that is exciting and meaningful. They’re focussed on the work and are less likely to abuse the vacation policy.

For people who prefer job security and process, an unlimited vacation policy means freedom FROM work that is not exciting and meaningless.  They’d prefer not to work and are more likely to abuse Branson’s policy.

Funny how that works.

In its truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed, it must be achieved

Franklin D. Roosevelt


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