Gift from calendar: spillover holidays

Many employers give paid days off on next 2 Mondays

December 21, 2007|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN REPORTER

Happy holidays. Take another day off work.

If you're one of the lucky ones, your boss is providing at least one additional paid holiday besides Christmas and New Year's Day thanks to a calendar quirk: Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 fall on Mondays this year.

Employers typically struggle with productivity issues during this time of year because so many workers take vacation between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day.

But this year's calendar -- and the fact that few people want to work on a Monday before a holiday -- has prompted more companies to close on one, if not both, days.

"It just sounds nice, doesn't it?" said Amy Montgomery, an account executive at Sparks-based Imre Communications, which is giving workers three extra days off besides Christmas and New Year's this year.

More than 60 percent of employers will provide at least three paid days off during the next few weeks, compared with 48 percent who did so last year when both holidays fell on Mondays, according to a recent survey by the Bureau of National Affairs.

Some companies are making the move in part to save money, saying that it's not efficient to open for business when many of their clients and competitors will be closed.

Others are giving the days off to reward employees for delivering strong results this year even as downsizing pushes practically every worker to do more with less.

The extra time comes as some companies scale back on other year-end workplace traditions, such as extravagant holiday parties.

As the economy tries to recover from recent credit and housing woes, some employers are holding luncheons instead of semiformal affairs. And year-end bonuses increasingly are tied to performance.

Some companies are opting to give an extra day off in lieu of, say, a party, said John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm.

"A lot of people would prefer an extra day off," he said.

Even President Bush is extending an extra holiday to his "employees:" He signed an order closing executive departments and federal agencies Dec. 24, except for those deemed important to national security or defense.

Busiest days

An exception is the U.S. Postal Service, whose offices will be open and carriers will make last-minute holiday deliveries on Dec. 24.

Of course, many businesses will remain open Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, albeit with a skeleton crew. Others will do brisk business on those days, such as retailers that fully staff their stores to deal with final gift purchases or after-Christmas returns.

Maryland state offices will be open on both days.

And some industries, such as financial and accounting services, can't afford to take extra days off at the end of the year because they need to help clients close their financial books.

T. Rowe Price, for example, will operate on both days because Wall Street is open, though some stock exchanges will operate on reduced schedules, said Randall Singer, a global benefits manager at the Baltimore mutual fund company.

Singer estimates that staffing will be down by 20 percent at its Baltimore and Owings Mills offices because of vacationing workers.

"If volumes are lower than predicted as the days progress, we will allow some staff to leave earlier using personal or vacation time for hours not worked," Singer said in an e-mail.

Who wants to work?

Even in our 24-7 work cycle, productivity suffers on days surrounding the holidays, said Challenger, the workplace expert.

"I'm so happy that we have Monday off because my family is up in New York," said Jodi Katz, a communications manager at Baltimore testing firm Prometric, which is giving its workers a paid holiday Dec. 24 because it falls on a Monday. "I get to spend more time with them, and it doesn't have to be rushed."

Companies such as Prometric say giving an extra day off during the hectic holiday season is a mix of good will and sound business judgment because it mitigates the disruption caused by working one day between a weekend and a holiday.

For some companies, it can be cost-effective to close altogether, said Marcia Rhodes, a spokeswoman for WorldatWork, an international human resources association.

Because Dec. 24 falls on a Monday this year, giving the day off "provides continuity to celebrate the holiday," said Paul Antony, director and human resources business partner at Prometric.

McCormick & Co. closes the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day, continuing a tradition established during World War II so families could spend time with soldiers at home on leave, said Jim Lynn, director of corporate communications at the Sparks-based spice maker.

McCormick employees are paid during the extended break.

The survey of 210 employers by the Bureau of National Affairs found that many employers, influenced by this year's calendar, are giving either Dec. 24 or Dec. 31 off as a paid day.

Nearly three out of five companies are granting their workers paid leave on Dec. 24. Ten percent will provide a half-day of paid leave that day.

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