It seems like the whole office is off in December. Can anything be done about it?

If you work in an office, you probably get an annual allotment of days off every year. Depending on where you work, those vacation days may carry over to the next year. In many places they don’t, though. So what happens in a use-them-or-lose-them office? Everyone takes their unused vacation days at the end of the year, leaving offices so empty that even the few people working are less productive because they can’t complete any task that depends on their vacationing colleague’s input.

December is probably going to be a slow month regardless, but is there a way to improve productivity at the margin with some better choice architecture? Yes, says reader Clare Chamberlain who sends along an interesting solution devised by an unnamed British government department. An employee’s annual leave for the calendar year starts in their birth month. So if you were born in May, your 2010 vacation days would start on May 1, 2010. Right now, you’d still be using 2009 vacation days. Assuming your office isn’t populated by former professional athletes, the result is employee leave that is more evenly distributed throughout the year.

Addendum: The U.K. department is the Crown Prosecution Service.

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3 Responses to “It seems like the whole office is off in December. Can anything be done about it?”

  1. Stewart Brock Says:

    I worked in a local authority which used this system and it works well, except that if your birthday falls in, say, February, you are much less likely to want to take leave then than say if your birthday is in August.

    A similar system involves your leave year starting on the same date as your first day of employment, and also avoids having to make part-year calculations of leave allowances. In my view a slightly better system than birthdays, so long as you remember your employment start date.

    Maybe an even better option would be to let the employee choose any date in the year. People with winter birthdays don’t lose out and you still get a good spread over the year.

  2. Jon Jennings Says:

    If you’re going to use birth month then a minor tweak would be to have your vacation year FINISH with your birth month. That way, if you’re using up days at the end of the ‘year’ you can treat yourself to a couple of days of doing something special for your birthday.

    The extra problem with aligning everybody’s vacation years is that they’re usually also aligned to the corporate year. So people are running around madly trying to hit their numbers before year-end but the office is barely functioning cos half the key people are on vacation.

  3. Paul Says:

    I’ve had this idea for years. I suggested that vacation should start be used by your anniversary date. It’s a little more simple than trying to coincide with birth months. The only downside is that a lot of companies calculate credits to their balance sheets and it creates somewhat of an accounting hassle having to carry over unused vacation to the next fiscal year.

    But, I still think it’s better than having to cram your vacation into the end of December.

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