SMEs to give employees extra time off in December

More than half a million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK are looking to give their workers extra time off around Christmas, according to research from Barclays.

The Barclays SME Barometer showed 10% of the 5.6 million registered SMEs in the UK will consider giving their workers an average of  two and a half extra days off at Christmas, equating to more than 120 million total days off.

Workers in the in hospitality and manufacturing industries are set to get even more time off on average, at three and half and three days respectively.

Annual leave for UK workers:

Office workers discouraged from taking leave

Companies making it hard for workers to take holiday

Making unlimited holiday work

Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at Partners&, said an end-of-year bonus would be most impactful for employees.

He told HR magazine: "Days off won’t add to the employees take home pay, and pre-holiday parties and gatherings – even if company funded – are likely to result in additional one-off employee expenditure in the form of travel costs, party clothing or babysitters. It therefore remains the case that the only employer seasonal offering that can be expected to support employee finances is the payment of an end-of-year financial bonus.

"That said, employers would be foolish to overlook the goodwill generated by extra days' leave, social gatherings and other positive gestures. Any or all can cement bonds between employer and employee and strengthen team spirit too. These measures can make a real difference to staff retention over time."

The research also showed more annual leave was the third-most requested benefit for 28% of UK SMEs, behind higher wages (87%) and more flexible working (56%).

Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection, said companies should be looking to help their workers all year round.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “It’s great that SMEs recognise they need to support staff. It’s important they look at a wide range of things they can do, and not just during the festive period; it needs to be embedded in their culture and values all year round.

"For support to really be effective, this needs to include offering employee benefits – with a particular emphasis on health and wellbeing – with the option for employees to tailor it to their own requirements or broader support for their wellbeing, and it needs to include robust education, as well as access to expert support.”

As well as providing time off, the research showed 44% of SMEs will be hosting end-of-year parties, spending an average of £56 per head. A further 41% will be closing offices between Christmas and New Year, and 25% will be awarding Christmas bonuses.

Increased employee retention was a contributing factor to these decisions, with 41% of SME employers believing staff activities leading up to the festive season helped boost retention.

Herbert added: "Many employees welcome the opportunity to socialise with their colleagues, but for others such events are unwelcome or unpractical if they have caring duties, limited finances or anxiety at social gatherings. HR experts should therefore always ensure that attendance is not compulsory, and that no individual feels victimised if they can’t – or don’t wish to – attend."