Why Shutting Down for the Holidays May Be a Good Idea

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is slow for many businesses. Some choose to close completely. Should you?

Why Shutting Down for the Holidays May Be a Good Idea

Judy Kneiszel

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Have you ever tried to catch up on business phone calls between Christmas and New Year’s and felt like the Will Forte character in Last Man on Earth? It seems like retail workers helping dissatisfied gift recipients exchange stuff are the only people working between our eggnog and champagne holidays. But should you shut down completely during that time? Could you? 

Arguments for Shutting Down

1. Happy employees. Shutting down means you and your employees can relax and actually enjoy the holidays, whether that means flying to a warmer locale; traveling to visit faraway loved ones; or staying home to spend time with younger kids who are off of school, older kids home from college on winter break, or out-of-town relatives visiting you. Let’s face it, workers are not at their most productive when they feel like they are missing out on celebrations the rest of their family and friends have time to enjoy, or are stressing out about how to squeeze celebrations around their work schedule.

2. Increased future productivity. This is an argument for vacations in general. When employees have time to relax, they return to the job with renewed enthusiasm.

3. A healthier workforce. Physically, it’s good for people to have time off too. It’s a relief from the physical demands of the job, allowing strained muscles to mend. It’s also a chance to build up immunity during cold and flu season by getting some extra rest. In short, a work break between Christmas and New Year’s does a body good.

4. It’s a good deal. This year, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fall on Mondays. So really, shutting down means workers get 10 days off in a row while really only missing four weekdays.

5. It saves money on overhead. If work is slow at holiday time, why pay to light and heat facilities during one of the coldest, darkest weeks of the year? Why stress out trying to find busy-work for employees? Sitting in front of their own TVs watching football will do far more for their morale than sitting around sorting nuts and bolts. Shutting down cuts overhead costs during a week that’s traditionally slow, even for the slow season. Couple that with the fact that some of the offices of your vendors, customers, and the professionals who serve your company are closed, you’d be doing nothing but leaving messages all week if you dutifully went in and tried to work. Some of your employees will probably be taking those days off anyway; so, again, you’d be paying to heat and light a potentially half-empty workplace.

6. Strengthen company loyalty and attract employees. Not only will your current employees think you are a great boss, you can use the holiday shutdown as a recruitment tool to attract future employees. Family time is important to most people. Who wouldn’t prefer working for a company that allows more time with family during the holidays?

If it’s not possible to shut down

Maybe you’ve got enough restrooms out on construction sites or rented for holiday-week special events that you need to have at least some employees on the job. Should you take the approach that if one employee has to work, every employee should work? Or can you find ways to cover the work without making everyone come in? Maybe you determine who is on the job based on seniority, meaning the newest hires work the holiday week. Or perhaps you ask for volunteers to work and sweeten the pot by promising the same amount of time off at a later date.

Depending on your company’s workload, maybe you can give everyone the week off, but ask a few employees who are staying in town to be on call in case something comes up. Again, there would have to be some form of compensation to those employees for the inconvenience.

As the owner or manager of the business, it’s tempting to take advantage of a shutdown to get some back-burner tasks accomplished, but that temptation is the very reason you, as the boss, need the holiday week off, too. Taking time off will make you a better boss when you return.

The question Scrooge would ask:

The main character in A Christmas Carol bristled at giving his employee Bob Cratchit Christmas Day off; so, of course, he’d want to know what it would cost his business to shut down for the entire holiday week. He’d weigh how much he’d spend having Cratchit stoking up the stove with coal against the loss of Cratchit’s holiday week productivity. And, of course, if he decided to shut down the business for the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, he would want to know if he would be required to pay Cratchit. Would you be required to pay your employees? It depends.

Generally, you are not required to pay nonexempt employees (those who qualify for overtime) on days they don’t work as long as they are notified in advance.

For salaried employees, federal law requires they be paid their regular salary without interruption for business closures that last less than one full week. There are some exceptions to these rules, however, so check with an attorney or a human resources expert if you’re not sure.

If you don’t have an established tradition of shutting down for the holiday week but are considering it, looking back at records from previous years may help you make a decision. Has it been a traditionally slow week? Would you actually save money by shutting down? Could you afford to shut down and pay staff or would you have to make it unpaid time off? Before the turkey is carved and the holiday season is officially upon us, think about, discuss and plan for that last week of December rather than springing the idea of a shutdown on employees the week before. This will allow them to budget if necessary and make solid plans for the season.


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