Flexible firms take break from fixed bank holidays
By MaryLou Costa
In her highly structured former life as a corporate consultant, Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne would regularly take two days of holiday each year to celebrate an event that's important to her and her family - Persian New Year, which falls in March.
So when she founded her organic period product start-up, Freda, in 2017, allowing her team to swap bank holidays to a time of their choosing, on top of the 29 days holiday already on offer, was an easy decision to make.
"You don't have to do things the same way they've always been done," says the London-based entrepreneur.
"I'm not obsessive about hours, but the job at hand. We're a digitally based business, so people can do their work anywhere, as long as it gets done within an agreed time frame.
"I have to admit, it's much easier to not comply with official bank holidays, as it allows for a more flexible working pattern, and everybody doesn't disappear together, apart from Christmas and New Year."
With team members at Freda simply entering their chosen time off into a communal spreadsheet, the arrangement is working well so far.
Ms Parvizi-Wayne works through the Summer bank holiday in August so that she can freely enjoy Persian New Year.
Her assistant, Bea, likes to celebrate her name day, as is a common custom in countries across Europe and Latin America, so she works over the Summer bank holiday too. Bea also returned to her native Brazil to celebrate Carnival in Rio de Janeiro in April, sacrificing the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday in June.
Freda's "choose your own bank holiday" policy isn't just the preserve of the start-up world, nor are Ms Parvizi-Wayne and her team alone in wanting their holiday schedules to reflect their personal priorities, rather than those designated by the state.
In a survey of 2,320 Britons conducted in July by mobile advertising platform LoopMe exclusively for the BBC, about 55% of respondents either already had the option to switch their bank holidays, or wanted to be able to.
Like Freda, Bristol-based marketing agency Seeker Digital has had this policy since it was founded in 2016, on top of its 28 day holiday allowance. Founder Gareth Simpson says it did not make sense to him to mandate when employees should use their holidays.
"Our work is not life and death. There is nothing that can't be rescheduled if required. We set these boundaries with clients and explain how these policies help us attract such talented people," says Mr Simpson.
For Laura Mallinson, a digital PR strategist at Seeker Digital, it means she can better align holidays with her teacher husband, as opposed to having to work most of the time when he is off. They have just returned from a summer holiday in Greece, which Ms Mallinson was able to extend thanks to working through the early May and Easter bank holidays.
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Meanwhile, for her colleague Beant Bajwa, who is a search engine optimisation (SEO) specialist at the agency, it means she and her husband can be more savvy about school holiday childcare.
It's a bugbear for many parents across the UK. Campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed surveyed more than 27,000 parents about their provisions for summer childcare. It found that of those who used formal childcare, one in eight expected it to cost them more than £2,000.
"I used to use private childcare and nurseries to cover the days we couldn't cover using our standard holiday allowance," says Ms Bajwa, who has two children, aged eight and three.
"Switching bank holidays helps me in saving money we used to spend on childcare. If we have nothing planned during bank holidays, then my husband takes care of the kids, then I can use those extra days during summer holidays. It's an extra eight days so we don't have to worry about childcare for almost a week and a half."
Some employers are testing the waters with bank holiday switching, trialling it on a case-by-case basis.
Manchester-based crisis charity Human Appeal allowed its 170-strong workforce to swap this year's Good Friday and Easter Monday bank holidays to extend their Eid celebrations, a no-brainer for the 70% who identify as Muslim.
The more appealing option was a full week off at the conclusion of Ramadan in May, made up of the early May bank holiday, two holiday days given by Human Appeal to celebrate Eid, plus the two days swapped over from Easter.
"Shifting the holiday dates meant bigger plans could be made with my family for outings and gatherings that would otherwise be impossible to fit in timewise," says Ahmed Osman, Human Appeal's UK programmes officer.
"The whole team has so many responsibilities during Ramadan that it's often all hands to the pump. Being able to extend Eid instead made much more sense to everyone, as well as a longer break overall."
If UK public holidays coincide with Ramadan again, then Human Appeal says it will consider repeating the swap.
A survey in May of 1,006 employed UK adults by HR software provider CIPHR found that two-thirds (67%) of UK workers said work-life balance was the most important aspect of a job.
Allison English, deputy chief executive of employee experience consultancy Leesman, predicts more companies may shift towards wrapping bank holidays into overall leave policies.
"Flexible work policies allow more employees than ever to choose where they work, so adding the 'when' dimension naturally stands to boost employee sentiments, because doing so gives people more control over their work - and all humans crave control," says Ms English.
"When we look at our survey data, only 48% of our 10,869 respondents in the past 12 months are satisfied with the programmes their organisation offers to promote wellbeing, so flexible bank holidays may stand to improve that score, as well as an employee's overall sense of work-life balance."
However, flexible bank holidays will not work for all roles or organisations, says Ms English.
Managers may end up with more juggling to do when it comes to scheduling leave, and arrangements will have to be made if people need to go into an office during a bank holiday when it might normally be closed.
"There are many variables to consider - like what employees do in their roles, what markets the organisation operates in, and the culture of the organisation - that all factor into whether or not this shift would be successful," Ms English adds.
But for Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne at Freda, the approach does bring benefits: "I trust my team and that they're getting the job done. Being flexible with bank holidays is a great way of showing how much you trust your team.
"Why do you have to stick to the status quo? The status quo doesn't equal productivity."