Branson: ideal boss or idealist?

SteveJonesLove him or loathe him – and there’s probably a greater number of people who sit in the former of these camps to be fair – Richard Branson is hard to ignore.

He is an inspirational figure to many, a publicity-hungry irritant to some, and to others he is quite possibly both.

Personally, I can’t help liking the guy. And he has just ingratiated himself with office workers around the world by championing a new annual leave policy which allows staff to take as many days off as they wish.

Branson, as you may have read, has followed the lead of online streaming firm Netflix in adopting the policy at his Virgin head offices in the US and UK.

Not only that, staff don’t even have to tell their managers before switching off the laptop, slapping an out of office on their email and heading for a few days R&R.

As long as they are up to date with every project and “100% certain it won’t damage the business or their careers”, they are free to come and go at will.

“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,” wrote the billionaire, who urged businesses to follow suit in a brainwave he reckoned will lead to increased productivity and a driven workforce.

What better way to make staff feel trusted, empowered and valued?

Working in a busy retail travel agency? You’ve had a hectic week, you finally nailed that $10,000 booking so why not reward yourself with a few days’ unannounced leave?

Never mind that your agency is already understaffed and there are 30 other itineraries you’re frantically trying to sort out. Just take off, assuming, don’t forget, that you’re 100% certain you’ve finished your work and that your absence won’t damage the business….or your career .

And isn’t this the critical point? The reason why, frankly, it is so unworkable. It’s a lovely idea, but it sounds what it is – hopelessly utopian.

When was the last time a travel consultant finished their work? It’s a fanciful proposition, particularly in today’s business environment where companies are asking fewer members of staff to do the same amount of work.

And even in the unlikely event of a consultant somehow reaching a natural break in their workload, who would be 100% certain their absence would not have a detrimental effect on the business and their careers?

The only certain thing is that anyone bold enough to take such a risk would worry endlessly that on their return they would find their presence surplus to requirements and someone new sitting at their desk.

Far from empowering staff and providing them with the opportunity to take more time off it could, perversely have the opposite effect. Take away the structure of annual leave and staff, with work piling up around them, would potentially take fewer days off.

Other news which grabbed my attention was TravelManagers decision to join ATAS. Now this has been portrayed in some quarters as a U-turn, a reversal of the home-working groups stated intentions. I’m not sure that’s true.

TravelManagers chairman Barry Mayo has long held reservations about the scheme. But his reservations have largely surrounded the voluntary nature of insurance products rather than the accreditation scheme itself.

Refusing to sign up would have served no real purpose. And it’s far more effective to push for change from within than hurl stones from the outside.

It was also interesting to see the reappearance of former Helloworld chief executive Rob Gurney in a senior industry role, this time with Emirates. It provided proof, if any were needed, that is matters little how senior executives fare in their previous role, someone will always be willing to ignore the past and re-employ them on lavish wages.