Career Path

How to Handle ‘Soft’ Holidays

Some companies take Presidents’ Day. Others don’t. Our guide to deciphering a “slow” workday.

If George Washington followers had their way, today would be everything from a beach day in Florida to ski day on the slopes in Aspen. But Presidents’ Day is among a handful of soft holidays observed by some companies but stubbornly ignored by others. In other words, don’t feel badly if you’re reading this at the office on a Monday. Fewer than 40% of US employers give a paid day off for Presidents’ Day, according to Bloomberg Law.

That means more than half the country have their heads down at their desks, grinding away.

About 30% of employers offer floating holidays, allowing employees to choose which observances they want to take off.

And since there’s no federal law that requires private firms to observe national holidays, businesses can handle the matter in a variety of ways. On one side: competitors and clients may still be punching the clock, particularly if the holiday falls during a sector’s busy season—so shouldn’t we? On the other: companies are becoming much more aware of, and accommodating to, different beliefs. Plus, giving employees more time off leads to happier and more engaged professionals, studies show.

Here’s how to handle the soft holidays, regardless whether you’re at a company that takes off every day possible, or at a firm where professionals are emailing each other on July 4th.

Gather competitive intelligence.

One of the reasons why so many companies waver on days off comes down to productivity and competition. A restaurant, for example, will most likely stay open on Presidents’ Day because it could result in extra profits from customers who aren’t working and want to spend it dining out. Other industries, meanwhile, may need to be mindful of their clientele; should you stay open and take advantage of others not working, you could be viewed as dogged and determined, or tone-deaf to cultural relevance.

If you’re working when your competitors aren’t, you can view it as a super-productivity day. “In today’s environment, it’s hard to focus on things that take a lot of attention,” says Mark Royal, a senior director at Korn Ferry. “Having extra time to clear out your inbox or dedicate some extra time to something that needs your full focus will leave you feeling accomplished and less burdened.”

Be aware of the kid conundrum.

More than 60% of married households with children now have both parents employed. That means when soft holidays come around, there’s a good chance that school-age kids will likely have the day off, leading their parents to have to figure out backup childcare or be creative with how to get work done. Career pros say it’s best to be flexible with professionals, and work with them to figure out the best way to handle these days. Some may work from home or work a half-day to switch off childcare with their partner.

Avoid scheduling snafus.

Try not to schedule important meetings or presentations with clients or colleagues on soft holidays, because it’s possible many people will be absent. If you do arrange a meeting by mistake, check to see if you need to reschedule. In some cases, you may be fine keeping the original arrangement.

And while it’s obvious, it’s often forgotten: designate a point person who can cover for you while you’re out – and return the favor down the line. If you plan ahead, most situations that could create a sense of inequity can be avoided, Royal says. “When things are anticipated, and don’t come up spontaneously, people often react better and are more willing to give and take,” he says.

Inquire about floating holidays.

More companies are giving employees an option called a floating holiday, which gives workers one or two days of paid time off to use for non-standard holidays. About 30% of employers offer such a choice, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Another play on this is what one boss calls “trade days.” “You use it for the day after Christmas or Yom Kippur or whatever holiday is important to you,” says Kim Zoller, CEO of ID360, a Dallas-based executive and organizational coaching firm. “Then no one feels uncomfortable or that their day isn’t important.”

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