REBA Inside Track: It’s the end of bank holiday as we know it
On the surface it’s a brilliant idea to improve DEI; giving employees the freedom to flex their public holidays so they can be used for days with more personal meaning in the calendar year. If employees have no bank holiday plans but have an upcoming date of religious, cultural, or spiritual significance they can simply swap the days around instead of using annual leave.
There has been a swathe of organisations announcing new bank holiday policies to their staff, such as Saatchi Group, Herbert Smith Freehills, Grant Thornton, Spotify and Deloitte. All give employees a choice to take public holidays on the day they fall or use them for days that are meaningful to them.
Many of the above are branding this new policy as a step to improving DEI by recognising that not every employee values a public holiday and would rather use the day for a religious or spiritual event. However, this policy needs to be carefully designed if it is to genuinely improve DEI.
Not all employees will be able to carry out their role on a bank holiday – receptionists in an otherwise empty office, or sales executives with no-one to sell to, are just two examples. That risks causing divisions across job roles between those who can take full advantage of the policy, and those who can’t.
Additionally, it runs the risk of losing the quality down-time associated with public holidays. The value of having a bank holiday is that many people – hospitality and retail aside – are not at work, and it provides a true rest day where all employees will be less pressured to respond to emails and can properly recharge.
In terms of DEI, does losing other bank holidays to celebrate religious or spiritual events really equate to inclusivity? Should an employee of a particular faith or community have to choose between important faith days and other public holidays? However, it would be remiss to ignore other, inclusivity advantages that such a policy could create. For example, for carers and parents, it could enable better capacity for emergency caring support, or for extra days off to celebrate family birthdays.
Perhaps a better solution would be to throw all available annual leave and public holidays together into a single ‘pot’ that an employee can use, regardless of religious or cultural holidays. That way, employees don’t have to choose between bank holidays and special days. It would preserve the collective downtime of bank holidays, while still giving scope for everyone to celebrate days that are important to them.