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"My staff can work what hours they like with unlimited holidays" company founder Jenny Biggam on why breaking rules is good for business


The team at London-based independent media agency the7stars can take as much holiday as they want without seeking permission or filling out holidays forms. They don't have job titles and can work whatever hours suit them, including from home. Co-founder Jenny Biggam tells Stylist why banishing hierarchy and trusting her employees is good for business:

Richard Branson’s recent pledge to allow his central team to take as much holiday as they like strikes me as an enlightened, progressive decision. Here at the7stars it’s a policy we’ve adopted since our first days in business.

For businesses that thrive on formality, rules and set-in-stone processes, allowing staff to set their own holiday entitlement is probably a bit like allowing the lunatics to run the asylum.

The team at The7Stars don't have job titles

But when we launched the7stars nine years ago, we deliberately set out to do things differently – we wanted to create a business that not only delivered great ideas and fantastic work for clients, but that was also a nice place to work.

Instead of thinking of all the rules we needed to follow, we asked what rules can we get rid of? The bureaucracy around holiday forms and seeking approval was one of the first things to go.

In all that time we’ve not had one single case of people abusing the system. In fact we’ve discovered that if you trust the people you work with to behave like grown-ups, they generally do.

If you trust the people you work with to behave like grown-ups, they generally do

On balance our 101 staff take somewhere around four weeks holiday per year, sometimes more if they are going on honeymoon, sometimes less if they are saving to buy a house. All holiday is paid but people may be less inclined to take time off travelling abroad if they're saving up for something.

We extend trust and flexibility by allowing team members to work hours which suit them. The media industry is not a 9-5 environment so as long as our colleagues get the job done, they can work from home or come into the office at 6am if they choose. All team members have access to laptops to make flexible hours a reality.

Holidays forms aren’t the only thing we got rid of when we launched the business. We also did away with job titles and have a completely flat company structure so everybody’s voice has equal merit. We find that people work much more flexibly when they are not tied down by a title describing what they do, or worried about where they are in the pecking order.

"We asked, what rules can we get rid of?" says business co-founder Jenny Biggam

We have found that staff respond positively to the lack of job titles and hierarchy. Hierarchies can be a real distraction in that they make companies very inward looking, focused on internal structures, company politics and competing with each other. We want the team to pull together so that we can deliver the best work for clients and compete better with outside companies that are often bigger than we are. Obviously it’s important for businesses to be well managed and to communicate clearly, but it’s possible to do this without giving people labels and effectively setting limits on how they do their work and the progress of their careers.

Instead we aim to foster a culture of shared purpose; in another break with corporate convention we share our business plan and profit targets with all team members. And while critics might say this lays us wide open to people leaking sensitive information to our competitors, so far it hasn’t happened.

We have few problems with absenteeism – why pull a sickie when you can just take a day off?

Ditching corporate policies instantly gave our company a sense of culture and community, something we’re constantly working on. Payday drinks in our own private bar at our Soho offices are a great way for team members to socialise.

We regularly run bake-offs, birthday drinks and job swaps – I was managing the reception desk last month. The small touches are also important so fresh fruit baskets and free breakfasts are a daily addition.

I think having a transparent, open, non-hierarchical culture has really helped us to work together well as a business and focus on what matters; really delivering for clients.

We have very few problems with absenteeism – why pull a sickie when you can just take a day off?

Employees also benefit from an in-office private bar, free breakfasts and payday drinks at the in-house bar

The feedback I get as the business owner is that the team feels motivated and engaged. This reflected in us coming third in this year’s Sunday Times best small companies to work for survey. We have also upheld a staff retention rate of 96% since we launched in 2005. However what’s really interesting is that being a nice place is good for business – our profits are up 40 per cent year on year.

While our approach to holidays won’t work for every sector, (hospitals and schools, for example) the general move towards trusting employees more can only be good for staff and UK businesses as a whole.

Five ways the7stars breaks the rules to make staff happier:

1. Unlimited holiday: staff can take holiday whenever they want without seeking permission or filling out a form

2. Flexible working hours: staff can work whatever hours suit them and from home if required

3. No job titles: staff don’t work according to a set job description but instead have company-wide targets. There is no hierarchy - the company has a completely flat structure

4. Transparency: company business plan and profit targets are shared with all team members. The business runs regular job swaps so employees know what their colleagues do day-to-day.

5. Sense of community: the company hosts regular bake-offs, birthday drinks and payday drinks in their private office bar, along with free daily breakfasts and fruit baskets

What do you think? Should more companies trust their employees by adopting flexi working hours and an unlimited holiday policy? What about banishing job titles - is less of a hierarchy beneficial to the running of a company? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on Twitter



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