The holiday season is an especially challenging time for organizations that, at a minimum, seek to maintain status-quo levels of productivity.
But as we all know, extra end-of-year obligations—from reviews to financial reporting to holiday festivities — eat into the final weeks of the year and often leave employees limping toward the finish line of a holiday break.
At West Monroe, we conducted a survey of 2,000 full-time employees in the United States to determine the holiday season’s effect on productivity. Our results reveal that it’s not just money that keeps employees motivated and productive during the holidays (defined as Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day); remote work opportunities and flexibility also play a pivotal role. If managers better understand this, they can create the right environments to make this time of year more successful.

Managers don't always make asking for time off easy. 

Over half (51%) of employees said they’re 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 are the busiest time of year for 25% of respondents.

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

Remote work and office closures yield greater holiday productivity. 

Over half of employees 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% — told us they’re just as productive or more 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 for more days during the holidays has a direct and positive impact on in-office productivity. Employees at offices that close additional days are significantly more likely to report higher productivity during the time that they’re actually in the office (42% compared to 17% in offices that don’t shut down outside of federal holidays).

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

  • Close the office for additional days beyond federal holidays, when feasible: Forty-five percent of employees say their workplace doesn’t close outside of the federal holidays. These companies 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 new year. And in a tight job market, that ROI is very real. We’ve tried this at our own company, and see the benefits of it year after year in terms of retention and productivity in Q1. 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.
Read the full article as it appears in Harvard Business Review.