ENTREPRENEUR AND INVESTOR
AT THE end of April, as you are more than likely aware by now, there will be just three working days out of a run of 11. Employees may be rejoicing at the thought of this break from the office, but I have mixed feelings about this enforced holiday period. The challenge for small and medium-sized businesses (SME) is the same as it always has been: when one or more people are absent from a business of 10 people or fewer, the impact is disproportionately large.
These three and four day weeks are naturally a very attractive period for people to take time off: they get 11 days in a row at a cost of only three days off their annual leave, but shutting up shop for days at a time can put pressure on small firms.
The way I see it, the same issue applies to the April break as to the extended break between Christmas and New Year. In most businesses, nobody ever gets anything done during that time. So years ago I gave up, and now always offer my employees the time between Christmas and New Year off as a gift. They return in the New Year enthused and refreshed.
In fact, I have come to the view over many years that we overrate time at work and underrate being productive. In other words, companies that focus on making their employees as productive as they possibly can will profit more than companies that encourage a culture of long working hours. I noticed this when I ran a global company. My French subsidiary, which was productivity obsessed, managed to out-produce many of my other subsidiaries despite working many fewer total hours per year.
But not all types of small businesses have the luxury of being able to shut down for the break. As the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) reports, the additional bank holiday could cost UK businesses £6bn in lost output. The days off may boost morale, but for business owners, this country’s “doers and grafters” according to the Prime Minister, work never stops. For the majority of small business owners, it will be a case of simply grafting through the period with less time and fewer people.
But if this government is serious about maximising the efficiency of SME growth in the UK, then it must address this £6bn in lost output. In that light, what can possibly be the logic behind clogging up the month of April with days upon days of inactivity?
Another option for business owners is that they may be able to ignore the royal wedding bank holiday entirely. Depending on how their contracts are worded, some companies may be under no obligation to give employees the extra day off. However, I still wouldn’t recommend this: a boss who refuses to acknowledge the extra bank holiday runs the risk of being severely resented. As a more pragmatic alternative, what I suggest is that we spread bank holidays throughout the year to support SMEs.
Spring is a frantic time for a lot of small firms, so moving a bank holiday to October, where staff are in need of a morale boost in between August and Christmas, seems like the smart alternative.
But for this year we have little choice, so my advice is to make the period bearable by wrapping up any crucial meetings and tasks before the break, or else schedule them for the next month. This way you can keep things running smoothly as possible until your staff return and normality is restored.
Doug Richard is the founder of School for Startups, a serial entrepreneur and an angel investor.