Study: Holidays Put the Humbug on Productivity

In a down economy, 15% of workers say they’re afraid to take time off for the holidays

SEATTLE, WA (Dec. 16, 2008) – Ebenezer Scrooge would not be pleased. According to a recent Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) study, 62% of companies reported that workplace productivity takes a dip during the holiday season, with most citing workflow snags as the main culprit.

The study found that a full 70% of organizations regard interruption of workflow as their top concern during the holidays, followed by holiday distractions (such as gift-giving and parties) at 48%, and 45% of respondents said employees taking more vacation time during the holiday season was a drag on productivity.

The current economic doldrums are also having an effect on the workforce, according to the study. Fifteen percent of companies said the economic situation has made employees more reluctant to take earned time off during the holidays. The main reason for the trepidation is the perception that employees are afraid that taking time off will reduce their job security status, pointed to by 61% of respondents. Also, 56% feel that they’ll be seen as "inessential" to the company if they take time off, and 47% fear been seen as lacking commitment to the organization.

"During this economic crisis, and particularly with the holiday season upon us, improving productivity of the existing workforce is priority number one," said Dr. Mary Key of i4cp. "However, the key to improved productivity for most companies lies in improving the corporate culture. Nurturing and developing the ‘survivors’ in the company is often overlooked in times like these but is essential to the cultural and competitive success of the organization long term."

However, not all is holiday humbug. Despite the seasonal slowdown, companies have a variety of strategies to keep holiday spirits up, ranging from parties and office shutdowns to special incentives and flexibility. Some holiday "strategies" used by respondents include the following:
  • We allow this temporary slowdown; it is good for morale.
  • Gave the entire company the last week of December off with pay. Everyone strives to get everything done before that period – motivational in this case.
  • Organize holiday activities for the entire company. Provide meals for those who must work on holidays.
  • Encourage employees to take their vacation & personal time, holiday party – allow them to relax. We have bonus incentives every 6 months so people are encouraged to meet their goals.
  • We acknowledge the "festive" spirit and try to work with it, encouraging our staff to have fun, but remember what needs to be done. Everyone seems to just pitch in and go for it!
  • It’s a short-term issue. With the current economic situation, employees need the opportunity to enjoy life a little. We actually have a "festivities week" with holiday bingo, a potluck and grab-bag, office golf, etc. (a different activity every day).
The Holiday Productivity Pulse survey was conducted by i4cp, in conjunction with, in November 2008. The total number of respondents was 419. The full results of the survey are available exclusively for all i4cp corporate members

About i4cp, inc.

i4cp is the world’s largest vendor-free network of corporations focused on improving workforce productivity. Our vendor-free community facilitates innovation by giving our members – among the largest and most respected organizations in the world – access to:
  • Peers to spark new ideas and prevent "reinventing the wheel,"
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With more than 40 years of experience and the industry’s largest team of human capital analysts, i4cp is the definitive destination for organizations seeking innovative ways to improve workforce productivity. For more information, visit
Erik Samdahl
Erik is the head of marketing at i4cp, and has nearly 20 years in the market research and human capital research industry.