For Your Benefit

Eggnog With a Splash of Paid Time Off
Firms are gifting employees with extra holiday cheer through extended end-of-the-year PTO.
By Andie Burjek
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roviding employees extended time off at the end of the year is one way to add a bit of holiday cheer.

Office closures during the holidays — typically the days between or immediately around Christmas and New Year’s Day — can enhance employee productivity, according to a November 2018 survey of 2,000 full-time employees conducted by Chicago-based consulting firm West Monroe Partners. The study explored employee productivity during the holiday season and gauged how additional days off during the holidays affected that productivity. It found the “employees at offices that close additional days during the holidays are significantly more likely to report higher productivity during the time that they’re actually in the office” — 42 percent compared to 17 percent in offices that don’t shut down outside of federal holidays.

Michael Hughes

Michael Hughes

The study suggested that employers close the office on days beyond federal holidays, when feasible.

Some employers look at this potential benefit and can’t see past the missed productivity of those three or four days between Christmas and New Year’s, said Michael Hughes, a managing director with West Monroe and lead of the firm’s Operations Excellence practice. But they’re not considering the return on investment.

“In a tight job market, the ROI from deciding to close the office becomes very real,” he said. “We’ve tried this at our own company and [we] see the benefits of it year after year in terms of retention and productivity.”

According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans’ 2018 “Employee Benefits Survey,” 12 percent of organizations offer the full week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve as a paid holiday, compared to 9 percent of organizations in 2016.

Especially at a time with a tight labor market, employers are looking for new, innovative ways to attract talent and increase morale, said Julie Stich, vice president of content at the foundation. An extended vacation during the holiday season is one way to vie for candidates’ attention.

If a company can withstand the hiatus from the client delivery and service perspective, it should strongly consider doing so.

This makes sense in some industries more than others. The top three industries that offer holiday time off perks include education, technology and manufacturing. Conversely there are many industries in which virtually no companies offered such perks, including banking, finance, food service and health care, Stich said.

The top three industries provide examples for the type of environment that can more naturally offer this perk, Stich said. People in education may already have that downtime over winter break. Tech companies tend to be innovative in the benefits they offer. And manufacturers sometimes need to shutter their shops and turn off the machines for a week for maintenance. Offering that week between or around Christmas and New Year’s Day could fit in with a business need as well as give many employees the perk of a longer break, she added.

Hughes said that if a company can withstand the hiatus from the client delivery and service perspective, it should strongly consider this time off.

Starfish and Santa hat on the beach.

At West Monroe Partners, the finance and accounting teams are often working at the office or at home during this time of the year to meet end-of-year deadlines. The same goes for IT, as clients’ expectations of getting the necessary tech guidance does not stop just because it’s the holiday season.

One year a client experienced a ransomware attack the week between Christmas and New Year’s, Hughes said, and employees on the cybersecurity team stepped up, working on Christmas Eve and the days following Christmas. Instead of time off, these employees were recognized and rewarded in other ways for going above and beyond in their jobs.

“Folks in these positions understand this is a busy time based on their role in the company,” Hughes said. “As long as you provide them with a similar benefit — paid time off during another non-busy time in the year — or rotate who’s ‘on call’ from year to year, they are less affected by the decision.”

“If it’s not possible for your business to close for additional days during the season, then it’s even more important to offer workers alternative ways of disconnecting and recharging, such as greater scheduling flexibility,” he added.

Customer relations are something else to keep in mind. Organizations need to let their clients or customers know in advance that they will not be providing services over a certain period of time. They can’t just rely on an update on their website to get the message across, Stich said.