Why The UK Needs More Bank Holidays

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Why The UK Needs More Bank Holidays

Every now and then I like to talk about something that’s not massively related to marketing and SEO. For a number of years I’ve been revisiting the topic of the way Bank Holiday’s in the UK work and I thought I’d have another look at them in 2023.

The topic of Bank Holidays – especially with the recent addition to the bank holiday schedule this year due to King Charles III’s coronation – has really got me thinking again.

As I said, this isn’t my first blog post thinking about public holidays in the UK. A few years ago I wrote a fairly in-depth piece about it whilst conceptualising a campaign for the absence management software I was working with at the time. The central focus of the campaign was to highlight to business owners and managers the benefits of employees taking time off.

The Business Perspective On Annual Leave

If you’re a business owner you probably have a good understanding of how employee holiday entitlement works. At the moment, full-time employees in the UK get a certain number of days off, inclusive of bank holidays. You can then top this up with more holiday allowance if you’re feeling that way inclined.

What may be a bit more surprising is despite the UK being towards the top of the world’s most economically significant nations, it doesn’t rank at the top when it comes to holiday entitlement. In fact, countries such as France and Germany – our nearest economic and geographical rivals – provide much more generous statutory holiday entitlement.

What may or may not surprise business owners further is there is a significant body of evidence that points to a big proportion of the workforce not even taking their full holiday allowance. As an employee I’ve done this myself in the past, saving up holidays for I don’t know what and then either taking them all at once at the end of the annual period or losing them because I’ve not used them. Likewise, as an employer, I see employees doing exactly the same, with levels of panic at the end of the year when they try to use up their holiday time.

The thing is, if your team isn’t taking its’ holiday allowance when they should be doing then it’s not good news for your business. At first, you might think it is because you’re going to get more hours worked in the business, but ultimately, stressed out, overworked employees will lead to productivity decreases and mental wellbeing issues.

Why Some Employees Hesitate To Take Holidays

Several factors contribute to this trend:

  • Overwhelming workload
  • A workplace culture that views holidays as a sign of lack of commitment
  • Bravado or the badge of honour associated with continuous work
  • Inflexible holiday request policies
  • The ability to roll over holidays, leading to accumulation and non-utilisation

The UK’s Productivity Puzzle

You might think that more days working in a business would lead to an increase in productivity, however, there is a lot of evidence that points to a different story. The UK suffers from what some have labelled as a productivity puzzle. We are one of the least productive of all the G7 nations. 

Productivity is the measure of the efficiency with which resources are used to produce goods and services. So in this sense, if you throw more time at a problem it’s very likely you’ll end up increasing the productivity gap. Instead, well-rested employees might be part of the key to boosting productivity.

In fact, by reducing the number of days the UK’s workforce is actually working, we might find our productivity rates increase i.e. we continue to produce the same amount for less time. 

Once we have found the right amount of working time for our current productivity rates, perhaps we can start to think about how to improve our productivity further. And this might at first simply be a case of better management, which itself is woefully inadequate in the UK’s economic system.

The Significance Of Bank Holidays

This year we’ve had a great example of what can be achieved with a bank holiday. The Coronation Bank Holiday offered a stress-free day in which many of the UK’s employees could down tools for the day and take part in a moment of national reflection, expression and celebration. 

Of course, not everyone is going to have watched the coronation, but a significant number will have done and the rest will have had some understanding of why they had been given an additional day off during the year. 

A Broader Holiday Perspective

OK, let’s forget about the economic factors surrounding bank holidays. Bank Holidays are an important part of the UK’s cultural life. They serve as a cultural beacon and offer a unifying opportunity.

Several years ago, the Labour Party suggested that four new Bank Holidays should be introduced to the UK, each of which would reflect the patron saint days of the UK’s constituent nations, namely: St George, St Andrew, St David and St Patrick. Celebrating these days can undoubtedly foster a greater understanding of the UK’s diversity and our tapestry of traditions.

There is, however, a logistical aspect to think about. There is already a high number of Bank Holidays during the spring period and these nation days would further add to that burden. As such it would be worth rescheduling some of the Bank Holidays to ensure the weekends are more evenly distributed throughout the year.

A New UK-wide Bank Holiday Proposal

I also think there is an argument to be made for creating a UK-wide bank holiday, that provides a spotlight on the UK’s significant moments. For example, it might be beneficial to have a Bank Holiday around the third Monday in October. The Battle of Trafalgar took place on 21st October 1805, which was the third Monday of October.

Having a new Bank Holiday in the last quarter would be very useful because it’s a long haul from the August Bank Holiday weekend to the next Bank Holiday, which is Christmas Day.

I’m not quite sure how this would work out politically with Bank Holidays being controlled by Westminster in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but being part of the Scottish Parliament’s remit in Scotland. But there must be a way to make this happen.

So What Would Five New Bank Holidays Mean For The UK?

We are smack bang in the new era of work. If you work for a business that doesn’t offer some form of flexible working then you’re probably in the minority. It’s therefore essential that we don’t shy away from reviewing the role of Bank Holidays in the UK’s economy.

It’s really difficult to work out the impact of Bank Holidays. In 2022 we had an extra Bank Holiday for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The extra break on 5th June was estimated by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to have resulted in a £1.2bn loss to the economy. But that’s not really the case. They had a huge margin for error. The same report said it could have in fact boosted the economy by as much as £1.1bn or perhaps could have lost the economy as much as £3.6bn. So really it’s a guestimate and a bit of an official shrug.

It’s also important to note that these national holidays don’t prevent spending from ever happening. We need to question what’s actually lost from the economy and what’s just spending that has just been delayed. OK, a house sale might not complete on the Bank Holiday, but it will be completed on within days of it. The money is still being spent. It’s the same with most transactions. Plus, this provides an extra day for people to use the leisure economy.

We’ve also seen in our cities that there are industries that can’t make up for the loss of passing trade. During the pandemic, inner city shops, cafes, restaurants etc. were all severely impacted by the loss of passing trade. That’s why any new bank holidays would need to be baked into the system, so they don’t provide a shock but rather are expected and planned for. And there will always be industries that simply can’t shut down their manufacturing processes, but this has always been the case.

These bank holidays bring to the fore questions about productivity, unity, diversity and employee rights. Some things about them are measurable but most things aren’t.

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