UK enjoys well-being boost from rare triple public holiday in May

Image courtesy of Channel News Asia

This year’s coronation of King Charles III has increased the number of public holidays in the United Kingdom. With the special public holiday on the Monday following the May 6 ceremony, along with the early May bank holiday and the spring bank holiday later in the month, many workers are enjoying a celebratory period. Typically, public holidays in the UK, particularly in England and Wales, are relatively rare. The coronation celebration raises the 2023 total to nine, still fewer than any European Union country. Given that annual hour worked in the UK are 11% higher than in Germany, the correlation between working more, having fewer holidays and economic success is unclear.

Interestingly, nine of the top ten most productive OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, as measured by GDP per hour worked in US dollars, are in continental Europe, a region known for long holidays. Evidence also suggests that national holidays have a minor yet positive impact on economic activity, or at least do not cause harm.

Having several three-day weekends in one month is drawing attention to recent four-day working week trials (without loss of pay) in numerous countries. Iceland conducted one of the earliest large trials between 2015 and 2019, which led to almost 90% of the country’s workforce becoming eligible to request a shorter work week with no loss in pay.

In a New Zealand trial involving Unilever employees, positive results were reported against standard business targets such as revenue growth. The majority of participants felt engaged, and absenteeism decreased by 34%. A six-month pilot programme in the UK, from June to December 2022, included 61 companies and around 2,900 workers. In line with other trials, organisers claimed it was a resounding success, with 56 of the businesses continuing the four-day week.

Paying employees 100% wages for 80% worktime might appear uneconomical; however, the UK trial discovered that, for the majority of companies, business performance and productivity remained stable. Staff retention also improved, with the number of individuals leaving those companies decreasing by 57%.

The most significant benefits to employees in these four-day week trials were in terms of well-being. The UK trial participants reported a 39% decrease in stress, and 71% claimed reduced levels of burnout. The average mental health score (on a scale of 1-5) increased by 13%, from 2.95 at the beginning to 3.32 by the end. Additionally, 54% reported a reduction in negative emotions.

Similar improvements in well-being were observed in Ireland’s four-day workweek trial completed in 2022, with employees from the 12 Irish companies experiencing a reduction in anxiety and negative feelings.

The previously mentioned New Zealand trial confirmed the strong positive effects on well-being. Over two-thirds of participants reported an improved work-life balance, and stress levels decreased by 33%.

The permanent benefits of four-day week trials are a result of long-term changes in working arrangements during the trial period. Therefore, the impact of this year’s increased May bank holidays in the UK might differ. One study investigating the well-being benefits of national holidays in 200 countries discovered that one less holiday led to a 0.8 percentage point drop in happiness probability, but no impact on longer-term satisfaction.

However, other research suggests that although public holidays may not have a lasting positive impact on well-being, they can boost social cohesion, which contributes to economic and well-being benefits. Except for a minority, public holidays provide leisure time, and social cohesion has long been associated with positive well-being.

Addressing workplace well-being has become increasingly important, with recent high-profile workplace bullying and harassment scandals and record-high calls to employee assistance hotlines due to anxiety and depression. These initiatives were intended for work-related advice, not emergency mental health services.

The additional coronation public holiday may offer a much-needed boost for UK workers. Regardless of one’s views on the Royal family, May’s public holidays will economically benefit the nation, but more importantly, they will provide a well-being boost for many.

Tony Syme and Maria Paola Rana are Lecturers in Economics at the University of Salford, reports Channel News Asia.

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Alex Morgan

Alex is a 42-year-old former corporate executive and business consultant with a degree in business administration. Boasting over 15 years of experience working in various industries, including technology, finance, and marketing, Alex has acquired in-depth knowledge about business strategies, management principles, and market trends. In recent years, Alex has transitioned into writing business articles and providing expert commentary on business-related issues. Fluent in English and proficient in data analysis, Alex strives to deliver well-researched and insightful content to readers, combining practical experience with a keen analytical eye to offer valuable perspectives on the ever-evolving business landscape.