Not everyone in the U.S. celebrates Christmas, but most workers get both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, and even more enjoy New Year’s Day as a holiday, too, because those days are federal holidays. Now, there’s a small, but growing trend among employers to offer the entire week between the holidays as an extra week of paid time off (PTO).
“Employers are doing more to support the mental health and work/life balance of employees, especially in this competitive labor market,” says Julie Stich, vice president of content for International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), which just released its 2022 Employee Benefits Survey. “Regardless of which holiday(s) an employee might observe, additional paid time off helps to promote a culture of employee well-being and provides another avenue to demonstrate employee appreciation.”
The IFEBP’s benefits survey reveals that 10.4% of respondents got the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s as paid time off in 2022, up from 8.2% two years ago. Among for-profit companies, 9.4% now give workers that week off, up from 7.8% in 2020. And it’s a perk this year at 17.6% of employees at government agencies, consistent with 17.7% two years ago.
Consultancy PwC has been offering the Christmas-New Year’s week off for U.S.-based employees since 2003, and just added another week of PTO during July, according to DeAnne Aussem, its well-being leader. “We know the value of protected time, and when we take time off together, we can support each other to fully unplug and recharge,” she says.
At Buoy Health, a tech company that matches individual healthcare consumers with the right healthcare provider, CEO and cofounder Andrew Le tells us that the firm has given staff the last week of the year off for nearly a decade now – but he and his partners still debate the downsides of stopping projects cold at the end of each year.
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What Is a ‘Dead Week’ in Business?
Some executives and employees call the work week between Christmas and New Year’s a “dead week,” because it can be a time when relatively little gets done at work. Many prospects, clients, and suppliers are likely to have the week off – or take the week off
For other businesses, the final week of the year can be a sprint to the end – with quarterly and annual deadlines and quotas to meet. Healthcare companies, including hospitals and hospices, transportation enterprises, such as trucking, and rail, bus and air lines, and retail and hospitality businesses can find themselves busier than ever during that week. Leaders at such firms should consider offering a week of PTO during their own “dead weeks” at other times of the year.
No matter when your company’s dead weeks occur, detail-oriented leaders know there’s really no such thing. What happens if a customer requires immediate attention? If a social-media post about your company demands an urgent reply? If project deadlines haven’t been met?
It’s the same discussion any leadership team might also have about a switch to a four-day workweek, a topic we explored with learning management company Administrate earlier this year. “We just made the commitment that we’re going to keep the outside view of the company the same,” says CEO John Peebles. No days off from the customer’s standpoint. “We let this be a team-by-team problem that was solved by each individual team. The support team works differently from the engineering team which works differently from account managers and so forth.”
During your C-suite debates about shutting down for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, be sure to discuss skeleton staffing across all departments, ideally made up of volunteers who will be rewarded with their own bonus week of PTO in the next year.
Benefits of Closing Your Office During the Final Week of the Year
“Rarely is there a yes-or-no answer to the ‘right’ thing to do,” says Patricia Jesperson, a principal at the consultancy EmployeeExp, which specializes in training business leaders to promote a diverse workforce. “Rather, it is organization-dependent, in addition to numerous other factors.”
C-suite executives who close shop in the last week or weeks of December recognize that a solid break at the end of the year can boost morale, enhance employee retention, and lessen the chances of spreading illnesses that could lead to additional days off. Among employee benefits, second in popularity to receiving a cash bonus is more paid time off, according to the HR platform isolved’s survey “Embracing 2022’s Biggest HR Trends.”
At Buoy Health, which otherwise allows employees to take unlimited time off, Le says it became obvious to him and the other founders that requiring and protecting time off at the end of the year meant that employees come back refreshed and ready to tackle projects in January. The company uses artificial intelligence (AI), so its public-facing website functions digitally without human interaction from Buoy, and customers continue to be attended to whether or not the staff is working.
And just as companies with four-day work weeks (and those shifting to remote work) have discovered, your firm can realize real savings on utilities and office supplies by closing offices for a week or more at the end of the year.
Alternatives to Giving Christmas-New Year’s Week Off
OK, so perhaps it’s simply impractical for your firm to shut down for the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s. Consider some other time-off options to reward employees and to allow them flexibility to tackle urgent year-end tasks in their own lives, advises Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career coach at Dream Career Club, a former HR professional at a global media company and an HR consultant to large and mid-size companies. Your leadership team might offer:
- One or two days off, if possible, that week
- Shortened work days that week
- Flexible comp time or specific bonus days off during your firm’s own “dead week” in 2023 as recognition for working the holiday week
- Remote work that week, if not generally permitted already
- Pop-up events – catered lunches, gift-card raffles, special performances. For workers who must come to the office, pay for lunch or raffle off gift cards and make it fun. (Note: Pop-up events are just one of seven employee-benefits ideas we found companies using to reward employees for returning to the office.)