Richard Branson’s paid year of paternity leave for men just another cheap publicity stunt

Not content with letting staff have as much holiday as they wish for, Virgin founder Branson has now come out and revealed male staff will able to take advantage of a year’s paternity leave, on full pay, if they have a child.

In the UK, this move comes shortly after new legislation was put in place meaning parents are now able to effectively share the time off permitted. Up to 50 weeks of leave, of which 37 is paid, can be shared by parents.

It mirrors progressive moves that have been made in certain Scandinavian countries, such as Sweden, which put men on a much more equal footing to women when it comes to the early rearing of a child.

Now, in true Branson and Virgin pomp and regalia, the multinational business is making that new law look cheap by saying men can have a year off, and get a full pay slip at the end. However, what is not made overtly obvious on the surface is the small pool of male staff that will be able to take this up. Not only will men have had to be working at Virgin for more than four years, but they will also need to be management employees of Virgin’s investment and brand licensing arm.

So of the 50,000 members of Virgin’s workforce (not knowing how many of those are men), only 150-odd well-paid staff will fit the criteria. That’s 0.3 of his employees – hardly the most generous policy of all time.

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The shallow offer is just like the one he made in September last year when it was announced employees were able to take as much holiday in a year as they like. Sure, it sounds great on the surface, but there won’t be many who will risk the silent wrath of colleagues or a supervisor by taking 30 or 40 days off. Rather, it is likely to result in staff seeing it as a way of demonstrating their loyalty and hard work by taking even less holiday than they would have if given a fixed amount.

Imagine that appraisal meeting when it’s shown that you took 42 days off in the last year, even if big boss Branson said it was all ok. For a company of 50,000 people, it’s hard to believe that Branson’s philanthropic attitude to holidays will have trickled down into every layer of management.

Granted, Virgin isn’t the only company to offer a flexible holiday structure – and it has been shown that treating staff as adults and demonstrating that trust has been laid at their door works when it comes to producing a good work culture. But instead of offering a double-edged sword, wouldn’t it be better to offer staff an extra five days holiday a year (if you can afford it) than putting them in a situation where they might be damned if they do and damned if they don’t?

Another aspect to look at is how diverse and representative Virgin is as a company. A quick look at the Virgin executive management page shows that, of 11 positions, only one is a woman. Its CEO, chairman and CFO are all male, with Virgin Unite CEO Jean Oelwang the only female member.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Branson and everything he has done to foster an entrepreneurial culture in the UK and rest of the world. His various business arms, from his wildly successful airline to his failed cola effort, have shown he’s a man who has never been afraid to launch a new product or convince us we need a new service.

But a policy that excludes 99.3 per cent of a company’s workforce surely doesn’t deserve the progressive bill it appears to have gained.

Let us know what you think about Branson’s new company policy in the comment box below.

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