Public holidays when you want them
London entrepreneur Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne plans to work Good Friday next year — so she can take a day off to enjoy Persian New Year in March instead, a holiday more significant to her and her family. Parvizi-Wayne, the founder of organic period product startup Freda, allows her entire team to swap national public holidays for an alternative day off of their choosing. Her assistant, Bea, from Brazil, likes to celebrate her name day — a common custom across Europe and Latin America — and so chose to work that day even though it was a public holiday. To meet the desire for a more inclusive workplace, more companies in the UK are providing staff with days off at times that mean more to them, rather than sticking to the government-prescribed calendar.
“I am passionately against complying with most imposed and predetermined celebratory breaks. The assumption there is that we, as individual humans, with our own culture and personal heritage, should celebrate someone’s else’s ‘important’ days,” Parvizi-Wayne says. “True inclusion excludes no one and that’s true for public holidays.”
Supplements brand Heights has several Jewish team members who have worked through a holiday in order to take time off for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in late September. Marketing agency Aqueous Digital has Hindu and Muslim staff who choose days off to fit their own religious and cultural days of note.
Standard public holidays just don’t work for everyone, argues Faye Mclean, people director at mattress maker Eve Sleep. “As part of our diversity, equality and inclusion values and commitment, we decided to tear up the rulebook and give people a choice when they want to take a UK public holiday,” she says.
Jo North, people director at mobile network Giffgaff, concurs, saying, “We believe giving our people the autonomy to choose their holidays and celebrations creates an equitable, fairer and more inclusive business that champions different ideas and perspectives,” she says. “We don’t all celebrate the same events, so why should we have to take the same holidays?”
That was the thinking for Manchester-based international crisis relief charity Human Appeal. When it emerged that this year, Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims of fasting, self-reflection and charitable acts, would coincide with Easter — a four-day holiday in the UK — the organisation’s management thought it was time to think differently about its public holidays policy.
The charity decided to allow its 170-strong workforce the choice of swapping the 2022 Easter holidays to extend their celebrations of Eid al-Fitr, the “Feast of Fast-Breaking” that marks the end of Ramadan and one of two major religious holidays in the Muslim calendar. Human Appeal already offers its staff — 70 percent of whom identify as Muslim — a day off for Eid. People who chose to work through Easter were able to get a five-day stretch for Eid in early May.
For Human Appeal’s UK programs officer Ahmed Osman, the swap meant more time celebrating with family. “Shifting the holiday dates meant bigger plans could be made for outings and gatherings that would otherwise be impossible to fit in time-wise,” he says. “While some of my friends who work in other companies had the long weekend bank holiday, I found it refreshing to be able to focus on the lives we save with our work. It was hectic, but also a motivating and rewarding feeling. While a long Easter weekend would have been nice, being able to have more time off for Eid with my family at the end meant much more.”
Human Appeal is considering repeating the swap if Ramadan were to coincide again with UK public holidays, as it was even taken up by non-Muslim employees who chose to extend their holiday time later in the year. “We had great feedback from the whole team about how the opportunity to make the switch was really appreciated,” says Osman.