Working Through the Holidays
When I was younger, I never thought that working on major holidays was remarkable. As a student, I always had shift work at places that were open 24/7. My family came from a long line of healthcare and factory workers, so it seemed normal to us.
I now work in an office where we close on bank holidays, like Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. I get the day off, paid. When I started, I thought this was fabulous, and my family was impressed.
Apparently not everyone thinks that’s so amazing. Some places, like schools and certain business departments, close down entirely for the holidays. A few people I know who work at those places think that unless I take a week and a half off, I’m burning the midnight oil and neglecting my family.
According to a survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, I’m not alone: as of last year, 84% of offices stay open around the holidays, with most only closing on Christmas and New Year’s Day. If people at those businesses want to take a week off, they’ll have to use vacation time.
I’m okay with that, as long as businesses give their employees vacation time to take whenever they wish. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and even if people do, often they would much rather take a week off when the weather is nice.
But some of my friends or retired relatives don’t seem to understand. They’re surprised that I can’t, say, go out to brunch three days after Christmas.
And I understand wanting to relax. I managed to attend several holiday parties, but I went back to work right away. I felt exhausted going back to work on Dec 26th. We were running a skeleton crew, and I had a busy day. I went home half-regretting that I hadn’t taken the day off, but I need to save vacation time.
I also feel that I’m missing some family events, and that it doesn’t reflect well on me. I explain every year around Halloween that if people want me to come to an event on an unusual day/time in December — say, not on an evening, a bank holiday, or a weekend —to let me know so I can plan ahead and request it off. It rarely happens.
I know a lot of plans are spur-of-the-moment, but I don’t think people understand what it’s like to commit to a schedule at work, and to have to use vacation days (which are limited) to take time off here and there. Fortunately, this year people were understanding and gracious when I couldn’t make certain parties.
A lot of businesses don’t even close on Christmas. Hospitals still need to run, and people still need police and firefighters. Restaurants are going to be open on New Year’s Eve, serving food and drinks.
What finally made me quit shift work was a company that would never give me time off. In previous jobs, I was always willing to switch shifts with other workers. I was in school, so I was more than willing to take on extra weekend or summer shifts, and so people would often switch with me if I needed a certain day off.
Then I started a new job. Even after I worked there for awhile, and on my pay slips I was accruing vacation days, they would not give me any time off.
The way the schedule worked was that we were assigned to work every other holiday: so, that particular season, I was scheduled to be off on Thanksgiving, and work on Christmas. I had zero choice in the matter, but I accepted it. I told my family, and we made plans.
The week of Thanksgiving rolled around, and my supervisor started asking if I would pick up the shift. I explained that I had made plans, and I was working Christmas, so I preferred not to work it. They hadn’t given me my then-fiance’s birthday off, and he was really looking forward to me having dinner with his family.
Well, it seemed like they sent over every supervisor and administrator in the building to ask me to work it. I think they even threw in a $25 gift card or something. They told me that I could switch, and that they’d let me have Christmas off if I worked Thanksgiving.
I turned it down. I ended up having to work until almost 4 a.m. the morning of Thanksgiving, because someone called out (I had to work evening shifts). I was exhausted and it ended up affecting my Thanksgiving.
I asked the person I covered (most of) the shift for if they’d cover a shift for me in the future, and they said no! This same attitude continued when I wanted to request other days off.
I never ended up getting a day off at that place. That’s when I finally threw in the towel and got an office job that closes once in awhile.
It doesn’t close as often as a school, but it’s enough for me.