Royal Wedding = Royal Pain for Small UK Businesses

Many UK workers are thrilled with the extra bank holiday coming up, thanks to the Royal Wedding taking place on April 29th, 2011. Following the Easter holiday and including May Day, this will mean two long weekends in a row for UK employees. But not everyone will get to partake in the national celebration, as the holiday is to be observed at the employer’s discretion, depending on the particulars of employment contracts.

According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), a minority of smaller firms, including at least 115 National Health Service trusts, will not be paying their staff to stay at home during the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton— nor will these employees receive overtime for working during the bank holiday.

Mark Dampier, a leading financial commentator at Hargreaves Lansdown, an independent financial adviser, told the Telegraph: "Bank holidays are never good for businesses. Workers tend not to take just that one day off, but the whole week. They are highly disruptive."

The question is, what is more damaging to productivity: the extra cost associated with paid leave for workers, or the potential fallout from a demoralized workforce?

Workers may be bitter that they must stick to their daily grind when much of the country is home attending street parties for the much-anticipated national celebration.

The TUC general secretary Brendan Barber has expressed concern about workers missing out on the holiday: "While most people are likely to get paid leave on 29 April as a result of their employer's goodwill, a significant minority of tight-fisted companies have decided to ignore the national mood and insist on keeping staff chained to their desks while everyone else is enjoying the bank holiday.

Not offering paid leave or overtime will rebound on employers as they risk demoralizing their workforce and damaging their reputation among their customers," said Barber.

Thomas Armstrong, a construction, transport and concrete production company, is another firm that told its employees April 29th will be a normal working day. There will be no overtime and employees may "take the day off through the normal holiday booking procedure."

GMB, a UK campaigning trade union, provides representation and advice on issues related to its members’ lives at work. Kevin Young, GMB Northern Regional Organizer said,

"With the nation and the whole of Cumbria scheduled to enjoy the Royal Wedding and take in the festivities, what a killjoy way to operate. The least the company could do is stop penny pinching, give workers a break and then get on with the business after the Royal Wedding Day.

It just goes to show that in the UK some managers take the attitude of no rest for the wicked and in the bargain, let's work till we drop," continued Young. "What a way to run a company."

Firms that would like to give employees the day off but can’t afford to may be caught between a rock and a hard place. With a little forethought, there are some ways of softening the blow for workers who don’t get to take the day off for the momentous event.

1. Bring the Royal Wedding to the office. Companies who can’t afford another day of paid employee leave afford leave can take a cue from one United States company:

"It isn't two four-day weekends in the US, but one company, Republic Title, is taking advantage of the Royal Wedding to invite clients in to watch the ceremony with some food and beverage," says Scott Vann, a real estate broker in the United States."This will give all involved an opportunity to network with new contacts, and strengthen existing relationships."

2. Offer a different day of paid leave. In the UK, Working Time Regulations increased the national minimum statutory paid annual leave entitlement from 4 weeks to 5.6 in 1998. The TUC suggests that companies that must stay open, such as retailers, offer their employees overtime and a different day of paid leave.

Giving employees the option to take their paid leave on a different day will allow your company to stay open and make money, while allowing the option to the employees who really want off.

For some companies, this is not a possibility either.

"Our contracts of employment and benefits already offer an enhanced holiday provision in excess of the legal minumum so we were not obliged to give this extra holiday," says James Duthie, HR Manager for Score Group in Aberdeen, in a LinkedIn conversation. Score Group employees were advised that should they wish to they could take this day off as part of their normal entitlement and/or take it as un-paid leave.

"As a business, if they had all wanted to take the day off it would have caused us an issue and we would have then considered incentivized pay on that day to ensure minimum staffing levels were maintained," says Duthie. "Surprisingly though only about 25% of employees requested the day off."

3. Ask your employees what they want!
Sharon Lorimer, founder of UK HR management firm doshebu, says that small business is most affected by the "11 day weekend".

"Not everyone wants the day off, for example, a market trader wanted to open her stall and she couldn't," says Lorimer.

Similarly, if you're operating a global firm outside of the UK, some of your employees may still be Royalists who wish to celebrate the occasion.

"Honoring others cultures is important in a global team," says Lorimer. "I suggest allowing people to decorate their desks, bring in cake, order lunch, have games, bring in their own wedding albums... or ask your employees what they want!"

It clearly may not be possible for every business to observe the bank holiday. Though this particular instance is mostly applicable to UK employers, similar situations that confound HR departments can creep up all over the world. With a little creativity, companies can maintain morale and still show their employees that they care.