Grant Thornton is one of the big hitters in the professional services industry. Its independent audit, tax and advisory firm empire spans 140 countries and more than 62,000 employees worldwide.
Of these territories, Grant Thornton UK provides services to more than 40,000 businesses across the country. It has 27 offices scattered across the UK all the way from Aberdeen down to Southampton. In 2022 it was recognised as a top 10 employer for parents by charity Working Families.
Like many companies, Grant Thornton used to offer employees a set number of holiday days per year, with extra days off for bank holidays due to office closures.
With a desire to create a more inclusive workforce for staff, particularly workers of non-Christian faiths who have their own religious festivals to celebrate, the company made the decision to switch to a flexible holiday system in January 2022.
The firm has employee religion networks in place for people of Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths. The majority of bank holidays across the year however are fixed around the Christian calendar, meaning employees of other religions are losing holiday days that could be better used elsewhere.
“What happened is people raised the possibility of taking time off for other religious holidays, such as Eid, Ramadan and various different holidays across all different religions,” says Perry Burton, head of people and culture.
“We already offered flexible bank holidays to our part-time people because we gave them a fixed holiday allowance, so I said, why can’t we just do it for everybody?”
The decision was one that the company had been contemplating for a long time, Burton adds.
“It’s been on our mind for some time. One of the most important things at Grant Thornton is to have a culture of everyday inclusivity.
“The decision absolutely came from a policy with regard to diversity and inclusion. There are so many different reasons people might want to move back holidays, so we made flexible bank holidays applicable to everybody in our organisation and we’ve seen a really strong uptake.”
Before introducing a company-wide flexible bank holiday policy, the firm undertook an employee consultation.
Burton said: “It was a decision that leadership made but it came about because of questions we’ve been asked by our people.
"We engaged with two groups of people: our inclusion advisory board consisting of a group of 12 people with a fixed level of diversity; and also our employee representative group, called The Clear Reps.
“It took us about six to eight weeks to make sure we had the system changes that we needed in place. We use Workday which is one of the world’s leading HR platforms, so it was pretty straightforward to implement once we decided to make the change.”
As the company introduced more remote and hybrid working during the Covid-19 pandemic, it made implementation easier.
Burton adds: “It’s been so much easier to implement as a result of the shift in working brought about by Covid. Historically, our offices closed on bank holidays, and they still are closed on traditional bank holidays to make sure that anybody who doesn’t want to work doesn’t have to work.
“But of course, we can all work really, really flexibly now. The agile working as a result of Covid was the trigger that enabled us to really push on with this.”
With flexible bank holidays, employees’ holiday allowance now includes a combination of bank holidays, statutory holidays and contractual leave.
Since implementing flexible bank holidays at the start of 2022, 20% of Grant Thornton UK staff have opted to work bank holidays and claim the time back at a later date.
Gina Strausa, continuous improvement executive at Grant Thornton, worked a bank holiday to give her the flexibility to return to Ireland for a family wedding around Christmas time.
She said: “I prefer to take holiday during the build-up to Christmas, rather than between Christmas and the new year. This year, however, my cousin was getting married in Ireland on 29 December and I was reluctant to sacrifice all the time I’d booked before Christmas. I needed an extra day to attend the full celebration.
“Making use of the firm’s flexible public holiday approach allowed me to work the Thursday of the Jubilee weekend and move the time to cover the wedding, and I still enjoyed a three-day weekend for the Jubilee.”
Flexible bank holidays have also helped the organisation become more inclusive of different faiths. Aziz Karimji, corporate tax assistant, chose to work the Jubilee weekend (2-5 June 2022) and saved the holiday days for another religious celebration.
Karimji said: “Shia Muslims have a 10-day gathering each year called Ashura, which takes place in Moharram, the first month in our Islamic calendar. During Ashura, we commemorate the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, Imam Hussain, and the sacrifices he made to keep the religion alive. I always try to attend this, wherever in the world it’s held, but some locations are harder to get to, and it does use a lot of annual leave.
“This year, because of the flexible bank holiday policy, I’ve worked a couple of the traditional bank holidays and used this time towards my leave for Ashura. I really value working for a firm which gives me that flexibility and recognises that we don’t all want to celebrate standard UK bank holiday occasions.”
Overall, the firm has seen an increase in satisfaction since introducing the policy.
Burton added: “We’ve certainly seen a considerable increase in employee satisfaction – it has generally gone down so well – 20% of our people have taken advantage of flexible bank holidays, and that’s quite a high percentage, and that was in the first year.”
Noting a trend within the workplace, Burton said other firms appeared to have followed suit. Others which to have introduced some form of flexible bank holiday policy in 2022 included Spotify, Deloitte and PwC.
The full piece of the above appears in the January/February 2023 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.