Bob Cratchit is the fictional worker who famously toiled away in the cold office of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s money-lending business until the close of play on Christmas Eve. Bob’s thoughts, however, are elsewhere, as his large family wait for him at home, eager to celebrate with what little they have.
Today’s 21st Century working conditions differ greatly from those of Bob, the 1843 office clerk. However, we can all probably relate to the feelings of distraction as seasonal celebrations and family engagements charge closer.
These thoughts are no longer reserved for Christmas Eve. Although still in the office, from 17-19 December more than half of the global workforce will already be winding down for the big day.
For the third year running, we have conducted research into the scale of the Christmas click-off, concluding that it’s here to stay. Based on the responses of more than 15,000 employees across the US, UK, Nordics and Germany, 7-10% will wind down much earlier – reporting reduced productivity for the entire month of December.
Christmas begins to take over the globe by mid-December with between 30 and 40% of staff reporting a fall in productivity.
Festive feelings aside, the impact of this workplace wind-down on the economy is substantial. Our Director of Employee Experience, Michael Dean, remarks, “Rough estimates suggest that it could cost the US economy several tens of billions of dollars, in addition to the multiple billions in the UK.” Employers will certainly be feeling the dual pressure of accommodating seasonal demands alongside mitigating the impact on their bottom line – as their people look forward to what might be their first break since the summer.
The 2018 survey results show decreased productivity among 18-24 year olds, clicking off a whole week earlier than all other age groups. This trend is common to all countries surveyed, but is visibly more pronounced in the US and Nordics.
These regions show a four to six day lag between the click-off of the youngest to the oldest demographic.
In the UK and Germany, the trend is less apparent but still detected. In the case of Germany, the demographic lag is reduced to just two days at the 50% engagement threshold.
The trend is not so pronounced, but there is a geographic difference across the US, with the Southern states clicking-off slightly earlier. Prior to 13 December, however, it is difficult to see a distinction at all.
The value of this data lies not in justifying the popular sport of Millennial-bashing or reinforcing regional stereotypes. The click-off is a natural response to seasonal pressures that will inevitably fluctuate across geographies and demographics.
Michael cautions, “As a business leader, the worst thing you can do is bury your head in the sand; it pays to understand what is going on before considering what you can do about it.”
While this trend may initially prove frustrating for management, it can be a bigger win to instead acknowledge this wind-down – and properly accommodate it.
There has been a recent uptake in strategies such as the four-day working week, flexible work patterns, and unlimited holiday allowances; all measures that would initially suggest a drop in productivity as a result. In practice, the opposite can indeed be true. The seasonal office slowdown may be another such example of how we can structure a workplace around the people who power it, for better overall results.
Michael Dean champions taking a new approach to the Christmas click-off: “One coping strategy could be to change the kind of work that people are doing. More of the same makes the dip in productivity more likely and more severe. Perhaps there are projects that individuals have wanted to attempt all year but haven’t been able to. Allocating time and resources now can mean you end the year on a high.
Thinking ahead to the year to come can be both affirming and inspiring: “You could also set up sessions to reflect on what teams have learned in the last year. These can be used to spark new ideas to take you into 2019.”
The multi-billion dollar cost of the Christmas click-off further emphasises the strong financial reasoning behind connecting to your workforce to create a culture of motivated, well-engaged employees.
At any time of year, there is an intrinsic link between employee happiness and productivity. Michael Dean shares some learnings: “Above all, remember that this is an important time of the year for friends and family. Research has shown that when a company supports its people, it is repaid by increased commitment to the business and its goals. The holiday period is the perfect time to highlight to your team that you value them not just as employees, but as people.”
Ebeneezer Scrooge, or rather Charles Dickens, has beaten us to this enlightened conclusion. A Christmas Carol wraps up with Scrooge increasing Bob Cratchit’s pay in line with his industry benchmark and sending a large turkey for the whole family to his home, articulating the bottom line impact that the clerk has on the money lender’s business. It’s a lesson in employee engagement we can all take to heart – without the need for a social visit from that hideous Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come.