Bank Holidays – The Sting of Spring

Bee on orange flowerBusinesses & Bank Holidays

Coping with the burden of the upcoming tax year end can be a cumbersome and expensive task for businesses.  And, for many organisations the extra workload is exacerbated because this period is blighted by the worst spate of three or four day working weeks in the calendar year!


In the spring of 2014, an employer’s productivity will be compromised by four bank holidays in less than seven weeks and as certain business owners will well know, the ripple effect of this can be far and wide.

Employers will be faced with an entourage of staff extended weekend holiday leave or a rush to use holiday entitlement to coincide with a child’s school closure. For Finance Directors, it can feel like they are running on skeleton staff levels at one of their busiest times in the financial year.

Is it time for Business Calendar Reform?

In recent years, British businesses have had to endure extra public holidays for the Royal Wedding and Jubilee celebrations and this has raised questions about whether the time is ripe for business calendar reform.

Ministers have already been in negotiations about the plight of the business calendar year: For example, should we scrap the May Day bank holiday in England and Wales? Or attempt to lengthen the tourist season by adding extra public holidays such as St George’s Day in April or a St David’s Day holiday in March for Wales? Or believe it or not a Trafalgar Day in October?

Where did all the bank holidays come from?

As we know, most bank holidays are steeped in tradition and reflect our nation’s agricultural and religious past. Understandably, many are against reform and believe that in today’s 24/7 day working environment, bank holidays are an important part of our heritage and an essential means for bringing communities together.

Easter is…well Easter!  But as May approaches we will witness two more bank holidays to acknowledge. The first is May Day, celebrated on the first Monday of each May (this year it falls on the 5th May). And the second is Spring Bank Holiday (26th May 2014).

Officially set in 1971, May Day’s historical significance as a celebration day is said to predate Christianity in Britain. Spring is a period of sowing seeds and planting crops ready for the growing season ahead. The conclusion of this busy period has been celebrated around the county with fairs, maypoles and Morris Dancers for centuries. As a day associated with the working class, today it is strongly linked with International Workers Day and various Union and Socialist movements.

The late spring bank holiday (formally known as Whit Monday) was always celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter, therefore could fall anywhere between 11th May and 14th June. As business hours became more static and Britain became a nation of manufacturing and industrialisation it was deemed a fluctuating nuisance in the holiday calendar. So in 1971, Whit Monday was formally replaced by a fixed spring holiday on the last Monday in May – to many businesses’ relief.

Looking back at bank holiday entitlement what we do know is that agriculture and religion once set the template for the calendar year. This changed significantly with the industrial revolution in 1871 when the Bank of England introduced the Bank Holidays Act. Along with this came set public holiday dates which replaced the previous organic rhythm to the year.

British Bank Holidays – A Blessing or A Curse?

Over the past 100 years we have witnessed governments and their policies taking charge of the nation’s holiday entitlement and in the future they may attempt to bend the calendar further towards the retail and leisure industries.

So this year, when spring is upon us and employees are in the throws of year end and facing an intense period of number crunching whilst simultaneously running on low resources – perhaps we should give a nod to our forebears for setting those two additional public holiday dates in May.  Because, maybe this legacy is still very much required today – The collection of bank holidays in spring continue to be a welcome pause for staff after the harvest of the new commodity (£££’s!).

I see these 2 holidays as a well deserved break after an extremely busy time in-house. But my question to other UK business owners and managers out there is – Do spring bank holidays add an unnecessary strain during a crucial reporting period or afford busy families the time to bond and relax?

For more facts on Bank Holidays read here or to understand why the tax years starts on the 6th April perhaps read this!