Holiday Productivity: Would You Believe it Has Increased Since 2005?

Now that we’re into December and the holiday season has kicked into full swing, here’s a question most every manager probably has on their mind: Just how much work am I getting out of my employees this month, anyway?

It’s a good question, especially since December is the most distracting month of the entire year. No matter what your religious affiliation may be, the end-of-the-year holiday season has a huge impact on every workplace, and every worker, no matter what they do or where they do it.

You know what I’m talking about: it’s the parties and celebrations, legal holidays, extra vacation that people take, bowl games, shopping and presents, and most of all, the pressure people feel to meet the holiday expectations of those around them.

No wonder we’re all distracted and stressed out, and it makes December a tough month to get people to buckle down and really focus on work.

Most anyone who has toiled in the workplace for a few years knows this to be true, but it also raises a good question: just how distracted are workers during the holidays anyway? And, would it surprise you to know that employees are less distracted today during the holidays than they were five years ago?

More productive today than in 2005

That’s what Accountemps, the staffing services firm that specializes in accounting and finance, found when they did their annual holiday survey and asked managers the question, In your opinion, are employees more or less productive the week before a major holiday?Here’s what they found:

  • Much more productive — 6 percent;
  • Somewhat more productive — 12 percent;
  • No difference — 48 percent;
  • Somewhat less productive — 28 percent;
  • Much less productive — 6 percent.

In other words, about one-third of senior managers (34 percent) feel that their employees are less productive before a major holiday, but this is much improved from the 44 percent of executives who said they saw pre-holiday productivity declines five years ago.

That’s a fairly significant productivity spike, and although the Accountemps survey doesn’t really give any reason for why workers are more productive during the holidays today than they were in 2005, it probably follows what we know to be true about workers in general during the Great Recession — they are more productive because there are fewer people around to do the work, and, because employees are worried about keeping their job.

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What is driving increased holiday productivity?

“Offices are often less productive during the holiday season than at other times of the year because of company parties, family festivities and other diversions,” said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Managing Your Career For Dummies, in a press release accompanying the survey. “It can be challenging for employees to strike a balance between personal and work obligations.”

Yes, the balance between work obligations and personal obligations does seem to get out of whack during the holidays, but the question I always have is, what do you do about it?

As a manager, do you simply give in and succumb to the notion that December (especially starting around Dec. 10) is a “lost month,” or do you play Scrooge and crack the whip so that people keep performing as if it is just any other time of the year?

Those aren’t attractive alternatives, but if the Accountemps survey tells us anything, it is that people ARE working harder during the holidays today then they did in the not-too-distant past.

Is this more fallout from the recession, or is something else at work when it comes to holiday season work? I’d love to know, if anyone out there has a good answer.

John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.