We surveyed 2,000 full-time employees in the United States to determine what the holiday season — Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day — means for productivity.
In a candidate-driven job market, organizations want an engaged workforce that sticks around. But for many businesses, the holidays create a unique challenge of balancing across-the-board PTO requests with high customer demand. Between managing operations and meeting customer needs, how can employers also keep their employees happy, productive, and loyal during a time when many leaders think employees “check out”?
At West Monroe Partners, we conducted a survey of 2,000 full-time employees in the United States to determine what the holiday season — Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day — means for productivity. Our results reveal that it’s not just money that keeps employees motivated and content during the holidays – remote work opportunities and flexibility also play a pivotal role. But managers aren’t necessarily creating that accommodating environment, with the majority of employees (51 percent) reporting uneasiness asking their manager for time off during the holidays.

Remote work and office closures yields greater holiday productivity 

Over half of the employees we surveyed said their companies allow them to work remotely. Among this group, there’s no ambiguity about the efficacy of working remotely. The overwhelming majority — 91 percent — told us they’re just as productive when doing so. It’s no surprise, then, that when it comes to what employees need to be more productive during the holidays, the ability to work remotely came in a very close second to the predictable first — a bigger holiday bonus.

In addition to remote working, we found that closing the office more days during the holidays has a direct and positive impact on in-office productivity. 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).

Managers don't make asking for time off easy

Over half (51 percent) of employees said they’re uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable asking their manager for time off during the holidays. The top reason, they say, is that their manager expects them to be available during their time off. One possible reason for that expectation is that the holidays can be the busiest time of year, according to 25 percent of respondents.

We found that discomfort is particularly high within the banking sector, where nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of employees told us they’re uncomfortable asking for time off. By contrast, only half of employees working in the healthcare industry said they’re uncomfortable.

The holiday season isn’t ripe for job-seeking— but the new year may be a different story

For the most part, employees aren’t looking for jobs during the holiday season any more than normal. Only 29 percent said they’re more likely to actively job-seek during the holidays compared to other times of year. However, the “grass is greener” feeling starts up in Q1, after the new year.

That could be because employees don’t feel good about returning to work after the holidays: 51 percent report feeling either unmotivated (25 percent) or overwhelmed (26 percent), while the minority (44 percent) report feeling rejuvenated.

Driving a more productive holiday season: Strategic recommendations

As businesses enter the holiday season, it’s important for leaders to consider how they can best position their business for success in the new year with a focus on employee productivity and engagement. We have four recommendations, based on the survey data and our experience as workforce consultants in a tight job market:

  • Close the office on days beyond federal holidays, when feasible: Companies that do not close extra days during the holiday season may look at the cost of this action and decide it’s too steep – but consider the return on investment. Employees report increased satisfaction and productivity leading into the time they’re most likely to search for other jobs. And in a tight job market, that ROI is very real. At West Monroe, we have first-hand experience with this tactic and see the benefits of it year over year. If it’s not possible for your business to close on 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.
  • Accommodate more remote working: With the holiday season now in full force, leaders should strike a balance between business goals and accommodating employee preferences, especially more remote working. The impact on productivity could be immense: Imagine an employee who would otherwise request PTO to visit longer with family out of town, but through remote working can accomplish two days’ worth of work while still getting to enjoy family time in the evening.
  • Consider flexible scheduling — and recognition: During the holidays, 38 percent of employees want fewer in-office distractions so they don’t feel they have to put in overtime to get their work done. Others want to come in and leave early to have more holiday family time. For these workers, flexible scheduling options during the holidays can significantly drive productivity and morale.
  • Provide better managerial training to equip managers with holiday leadership skills: Our results highlight an opportunity for improved managerial training — training that can equip managers to better lead teams, manage unwanted distractions (like too many holiday parties), and process PTO requests fairly. As we highlighted in a previous study, there’s a lack of manager training, with over one-third of managers receiving no formal training from their employer. The holidays represent an opportunity to change that. While managers can’t blindly let their entire team take the holidays off, they can do a better job of having open conversations with their employees around holiday PTO and job satisfaction.

Employers should develop a strategy for managing employee productivity around the holidays, considering the importance of remote work opportunities and scheduling flexibility; empowering management to lead and manage PTO requests fairly; and rewarding top performers. By doing so, enterprises can turn their business into a place employees will be excited to return to in 2019.