No place like home for the holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year -- especially at companies that offer employees a winter break.

thinkstockphotos selfie christmas smartphone
JackFrog/Thinkstock

I remember years ago, on my first full-time writing job, submitting a request for time off between Christmas and New Year's and having my request denied. "You're new," I was told. "We need to have adequate staffing over the break, and everyone else put their requests in first thing after the new year … "

I spent that Christmas break writing stories to fill an arbitrary quota of "fresh content." My sources were mostly on vacation. My editor was lounging on a beach somewhere. Senior leadership was away. There I was, cranky, overtired, stressed and working over the holidays while my colleagues slept in, binged on spiked eggnog and hung out with their families. And to add insult to injury, we were reprimanded for poor traffic performance that week.

So, when I started here at CIO.com, one of the first things I did once I had accrued some PTO was to ask my manager for that time off. There was silence, and then he said, "You don't have to use your PTO for that - we shut down between Christmas and New Year's Day."

I could have wept tears of joy. Seriously, that simple perk, the gift of time, is one of the best benefits of my company. Of course, in our industry, we need to work ahead of the holiday break to have fresh content for our readers and we have to maintain a publishing schedule even though our offices are closed, but we accomplish that by planning ahead. The holiday break is a nod to the importance of actual work-life balance, and I would argue that it also contributes to greater gender diversity.

Women are largely the ones responsible for childcare, scheduling and home responsibilities, so it usually falls to us to make sure we have coverage for school holidays and breaks (my son is off from December 26 until January 3). If a company makes it a point to ease those stress points for us, that's huge.

PricewaterhouseCoopers is another example of a large, global firm that offers the majority of its employees a winter break -- they even created a hashtag campaign to go along with theirs; #PwCTakesABreak. Informally, PwC employees call it 'The Shutdown.'

The shift toward a winter break norm has been challenging, at times, says Anne Donovan, Global Innovation Leader at PwC, but it's a great tool to improve engagement and loyalty all the way up the ranks.

"I believe we started this in 2009, and it took a couple years before everyone really settled into this as a thing. I remember that first year, peeking at my email thinking, 'This can't be real … people have got to be working, right?! And they weren't! It's like the secret of Santa Claus - all these people agreeing to not work. It's really magical!" Donovan tells me.

Much like we do here, senior leadership at PwC makes a conscious decision each year to offer the break and everyone from the highest-level executives to the entry-level workers pulls together to make it work, she says. PwC offers two additional holidays and employees are encouraged to reserve at least two days of their PTO to use during the break -- the company and its workers split the difference, Donovan says. The hashtag campaign helps to show everyone at the company that it's okay to take a break and enjoy your life outside of work, she adds.

"Who wouldn't want to do everything possible to make sure we can get 10 days of guilt-free vacation? Even many of our clients are getting on board with doing it, and we have a formal list of reasons why they should absolutely be offering this," she says.

In case you needed any additional justification, the PwC list looks like this:

"As a firm, we work hard. We audit many Fortune 500 companies, but we make time to take a break and here's why…

5 reasons to take a break from work this Holiday

  1. We value time spent with family and friends. Look for fun photos using #PwCTakesABreak
  2. We think the break reignites creativity
  3. Sometimes taking a break from coworkers makes you appreciate them more
  4. Teams return from break more productive
  5. It starts at the top. When employees see our chairman and the rest of our leaders take a break, they know the firm is serious about taking a break."

Sounds pretty good to me. I hope you have wonderful holiday season and I'll see you in the New Year.

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