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This CEO Wants Employees to Leave Work Early (and Loudly Let Everyone Else Know That They’re Going)

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The most-respected bosses do a lot of things right. Among them, they respect their employees’ time, trust them to do their work (otherwise they shouldn’t be their employees), and recognize that they have lives outside the office.

Now, meet a CEO who takes some of that to an extreme. 

Robbert Rietbroek, chief executive of PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand, has made news recently for instituting a policy known as “Leaders Leaving Loudly,” in which company leaders are encouraged to make a big deal about leaving before the end of the day–so that everyone else will feel comfortable doing so, too.

As the Australian news site, news.com.au, summarized:

Since joining PepsiCo, the father of two has been championing family-friendly, flexible work policies, as well as attempting to boost the number of women in senior management roles — currently at about 40 per cent. But he wants to challenge the perception that flexible working arrangements are “off limits” for men.

“What I’ve learned over 16 years as a father of two children is that it’s very difficult to balance work and family commitments,” Rietbroek said, adding, “So for instance, if I occasionally go at 4 p.m. to pick up my daughters, I will make sure I tell the people around me, ‘I’m going to pick up my children.’ Because if it’s okay for the boss, then it’s okay for middle management and new hires.”

This kind of policy seems a bit radical, but it’s more common than you might think. It reminded me of reporting in Iraq a decade ago, when I had to schedule an interview with a top general around his plans to go on mid-tour leave. The idea was that if a general didn’t take leave (vacation), the lower-ranking soldiers never would either, and that would ultimately defeat the entire purpose of having leave in the first place.

Let’s pick apart Reitbroek’s quote about how he sets the example for leaving loudly, however, because there are a few important details.

1. “Occasionally”

I think this makes sense. The “leave loudly” policy isn’t supposed to be an excuse for chronic absenteeism or knocking off early every days. Instead, it’s supposed to allow conscientious, hard-working employees to feel like they can have a life outside work–without trying to hide or downplay that life in the office.

2. “to pick up my children…”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Reitbroek uses the example of taking care of a common family related issue–picking up his kids after school. I wonder how loudly employees would be encouraged to leave if their reasons for taking off early were to head to a bar, or just to enjoy the sunshine while everyone else stays behind to work.

3. Australia and New Zealand

With the caveat that I’ve never been to either country, the tale of the tape shows that their business and social climates simply aren’t the same as the United States. While we’re “separated by a common language,” as the saying goes, we clearly have different priorities.

As an example, the average parent gets between seven and eight weeks of parental leave when having a new child in Australia and New Zealand; in the United States, there’s no guarantee of any such leave. (According to his LinkedIn profile, Reitbroek is a dual citizen of both the United States and EU-Dutch, apparently–in case you’re wondering.)

So what do you think? Could this kind of policy thrive at an American company? Should it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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