It’s a feeling that gets even the hardest workers among us. The closer we get to the holiday season, the more festive — and less productive — we feel at work. As windows are lit with twinkly lights, excitement begins to bubble around the office and motivation to work wanes. Employees leave early, bright-eyed and scarf-wrapped, for some seasonal revelry, family events or shopping ahead of the big day.
By the time we reach mid-December, that feeling has reached a deafening festive crescendo that sounds a lot like Mariah hitting the high note in ‘All I Want For Christmas is You’.
This phenomenon is called the holiday click-off. Although your employees may still be putting in the office hours throughout the month, the reality is that more than half of the global workforce reports a fall in productivity between 16th and 19th December as they start to wind down for the holidays.
“The concept of the click-off is that there is a slow-down as employees drift off into the Christmas holidays,” Michael Dean, Director of Employee Experience at Peakon, explains. “As people go away for holidays during this time of year, it has a knock-on effect on other employees’ productivity. During this time, you shouldn’t expect people to be performing in the same way that they have during other times of the year, or even at the start of the quarter.”
Each year, we run a survey to track this trend and find out exactly when employees feel that the holiday season will begin to impact their productivity. This year, we collected data from 12,000 members of the public in the UK, US and Germany.
To get us all into the festive spirit, we thought our research would be best summed up in the style of the inimitable Clement Clarke Moore, otherwise known as the author of seasonal ode ‘Twas the night before Christmas. We can only hope he’ll forgive us for taking a few liberties…
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the office,
Not an employee was working… Not even the bosses.
Since the season began, all effort had ceased,
And the CEO saw that productivity had decreased.
Since mid-December, all motivation had fled —
And staff just wanted to make merry instead.
“But how can I fix this?” the CEO asked,
“Each year they stop working earlier than the last.”
The festive feeling starts early for some employees
Proving that the holiday spirit can be infectious, some respondents to our survey predicted that they expect their productivity to decline before December has even started.
Then from the lobby there arose such a clatter,
He sprang from his desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the lobby he flew like a flash,
And tore open the doors with a loud crash.
As winter’s chill fogged up the glass,
A shadowy shape appeared on the grass.
And who was there but a jolly old gent,
A miniature sleigh and eight heroes of engagement.
Around 7% of employees in the UK and Germany are feeling the festive spirit early on in the season, while that number rises to around 10% for early revellers in the US. With the end of November marking Thanksgiving for American employees, it’s not hard to see how the festive spirit takes hold a little earlier over the pond.
UK employees click off on 18th December, while German employees remain productive longer
In the UK, over 50% of employees expect to lose their focus at work by 18th December, with over three quarters succumbing to the festive spirit just two days later. German employees maintain their focus until the 19th and 20th December, giving them a five-day productivity streak on the US, whose employees click off earliest of all between 15th and 16th December.
The little old driver, so lively and quick,
He knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than real-time his heroes they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
And with that Santa turned, and he said with a wink,
“Employee engagement’s not as hard as you think.”
This decline in productivity spikes for all three regions by the final Friday before Christmas. Between 19th and 20th December, a further 20% employees in the US anticipate that they will lose focus in their work, while for the UK, that number hits 21%. For the same 24-hour period in Germany, almost a quarter of the workforce will be winding down for the holidays.
Younger employees report a decrease in their productivity earlier in the month
When we analyse our data by age, it shows us that younger groups of employees are more likely to click off earlier than their older colleagues.
By 12th December, over one third of UK employees in the 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 age brackets report a decline in their productivity as a result of being distracted by the festive season. Just a few days later on 15th to 16th December, 50% of the employees in both age groups will be winding down for the holidays — a two- to five- day head start on their older colleagues.
As the CEO gaped, he asked the old guy,
“Our workers aren’t working — can you tell us why?”
Father Christmas replied with a nice, friendly beam:
“‘Tis the Holiday Click-Off, so let them let off steam.”
“It’s been a long year and they’re all very weary,
So give them time off to eat, drink and be merry.
Be mindful of all they’ve accomplished to date,
Say thanks and highlight their work that’s been great.”
US employees share in this reported decline for the holiday season, with employees in the 18 to 24 group most likely to click off between 15th and 16th December. In Germany, younger employees likewise report a decline in productivity, but the demographic lag is less pronounced at only one to two days ahead of their colleagues.
How to keep your workforce motivated during the holiday season
These findings are not about reinforcing cultural or age-related stereotypes and bias; rather they represent a natural reaction to how employees navigate the pressures of work during the festive season. The important thing, says Michael, isn’t to focus on the negative aspects during the season, but rather be mindful of the efforts your employees have put in over the course of the year.
“My take on it is that we should try to think about things that are a bit different that you could be doing that will still be valuable for having a running start for the next year,” Michael suggests. “It’s about turning this seasonality into something positive.”
While this decline in productivity may be frustrating for management, it’s something that leaders need to acknowledge and plan for. That might mean you need to change up the pace and reprioritise your to-do list.
“As a leader, it’s important to address that feeling and know that it won’t be business as usual,” he adds. “Leaders are also clicking off during this time, so it’s important to prioritise what deadlines and targets you do need to hit and make sure to set achievable goals within the limits of the season.”
As the clock struck five, they all jumped to their feet,
And rushed for the door; their work was complete.
Not to be seen next until after New Year,
They left the office full of good tidings — and good cheer.
As the employees downed tools and fled out of sight,
Santa called “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
This could be something like introducing more flexible working policies for your employees, or planning for the year ahead. Alternatively, as Michael suggests, you could do an informal review of the past year and what you have learned.
And as the season is known as being one for giving, Michael suggests giving a little recognition back to your employees for all the hard work they’ve accomplished over the past year:
“The holiday season is a really good time to think about what the contributions your team members have made over the past year and show them your gratitude,” Michael notes. “Thank them for their effort from the past year that you’ve really appreciated or highlight the moments they have contributed to. Maybe you could thank them with a card, or bring it up in your final one-on-one meetings for the year. Take the holiday season as a prompt to say thanks and give them that recognition.”