Almost 60% of the UK would welcome an annual summer ‘shutdown’ among businesses, a survey has shown.

The study, conducted by leading virtual assistant service providers ava, discovered that many Brits felt that by shutting up shop during traditionally quiet periods, businesses would remain more productive and cost-efficient overall.

The key stats

  • The 55-64 age demographic were most behind the introduction of annual industrial shutdowns, making up 66% of the ‘yes’ vote.
  • In the UK, England (59%) was the most in favour of such a move, whereas 68% of Northern Ireland were against a change.
  • In the battle of the sexes, it appears that women are more likely to support this new productivity method – with 63% backing the system. Men were less inclined to throw their weight behind a proposed change, with 44% voting against.

Should we introduce a universal shutdown?

All industries suffer downturns of productivity and profits. And whilst many simply put it down to ‘that time of year’ and do whatever they can to prepare for it, others have honed their schedules and working practices in order to capitalise on traditional lulls.

The annual summer shutdown concept has been adopted by many businesses – most notably construction equipment giants JCB. The Staffordshire-based company closes its main Rocester factory each summer for up to three weeks, not only cutting back on expenditure and outgoings – but giving all staff a designated period to enjoy the summer – fully paid of course.

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They are not only ones to adopt this method. TED, a series of global conference providers, also closes for two weeks in August. Former media executive June Cohen, explained that the annual shutdown was to give hard-working staff a chance to fully recharge. :

“By taking the same two weeks off, it makes sure everyone takes vacation. Planning a vacation is hard – most of us would feel a little guilty to take two weeks off if it weren’t pre-planned for us, and we’d be likely to cancel when something inevitably came up. This creates an enforced rest period, which is so important for productivity and happiness.”

Her theory behind this was purely driven by caring about staff, not necessarily profit margins. However, if you take care of your staff and make it easy for them to recharge their batteries, it stands to reason that they’ll be more productive whilst in work, which can only have a positive effect on your bottom line.

The 2016 summer of sport

It’s no secret that many businesses come under real pressure in the summer months. As this Financial Times article from 2015 alluded to, the best way to boost the nation’s productivity would be to “cancel August”.

The summer of 2016 is an eagerly anticipated one. The Olympics are taking place in Rio de Janeiro, with Team GB hotly tipped to win big as they did in London four years ago.

Meanwhile, the great British hope, Andy Murray, will be looking to reclaim the Wimbledon title he famously won back in 2013.

Although both are very popular events on the sporting calendar, no other competition will have the UK (probably not Scotland) glued to television sets like the upcoming Euro 2016.

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It is the first time that England, Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland have all participated at a football tournament at the same time, so UK audiences are expected to be at an all-time high. The most eagerly-anticipated game in the opening stages – England vs. Wales – is to be played at 2pm on Thursday 16th June, with many ‘sick days’ expected across the two nations.

The 2014 World Cup was expected to cost UK businesses an eye-watering £4 billion in lost productivity. No wonder business owners are more than a little concerned.

Now more than ever, it’s essential that companies reassess their operations and figure out if there’s a way to make a compromise with staff so that things keep ticking over nicely. If you know that orders start to dry up in August, it makes sense to introduce a shutdown – just make sure that your employees are on board.

You may find that a large chunk of your workforce books in a week or two of annual leave in June, July and August anyway. This is arguably an even greater challenge, as you need to cope with disruptions over a longer period than you would if you sanctioned a full shutdown for two or three weeks.

Lucie Greenwood, Sales Manager at ava, feels taking the time to delve into how your business performs when trading is slow, you’re more likely to be successful during busy periods.

“Regardless of a company’s size or profit margins, a decrease in performance and income can be a very stressful time.

“However, it’s these periods in which you have the most time on your hands to take a step back and really look at how you work as a business. When you’re flat out and the money is pouring in, it’s very easy to assume everything is fine – when in fact there may be many aspects of your operations that can be improved.

“At ava, we tend to see a spike in clients contacting us for extra help during the summer months because a lot of their staff take annual holidays, leaving them short-handed. Turning to a third party for assistance is a good idea. Just make sure you’ve got everything planned out well in advance so you’re not in a panic when the popular employee leave periods roll around.”

How can my business stay productive during the summer?

Whilst adopting a shutdown this summer may not be feasible for your business, there are many things you can do to combat potential disruptions:

Plan ahead

By planning ahead and assessing which areas of the business will be affected by those taking time off, you can identify where and when you need to strengthen.

Providing cover with agency staff or offering temporary contracts may be one solution. For a more cost-effective method, ask staff to put in their holiday requests early. Not only will you be able to prepare for their absence, but they are less likely to have their holiday request denied.

Be flexible

Since 2014, all employees have had the statutory right to request flexible working hours, as long as they have been employed for at least 26 weeks.

Whilst it may only usually apply to staff with children, with the European Championships looming large, offering flexible working hours could considerably increase team morale and productivity.

Work closely with your workforce to create a flexible working plan that not only fits their needs, but the company’s too.

Use downtime wisely

If your business usually experiences a lull during the summer months, and resources are not as stretched as usual, use this free time to fully prepare for your next busy period.

Taking care of recruitment, forecasting for the next year, replenishing stock or assessing your outgoings are just some of the many things your business could do to stay productive during this down period.