In this holiday issue, freelance marketing writer Morag Cuddeford-Jones has a simple wish, not just for herself, but for all employees as time off could be a gift, not just to them. but to your organization and customers.


One of the most common things my desk-bound counterparts say to me is: “It must be great being a freelancer. Your schedule is your own. You can sack off work whenever you feel like it.”

In theory, I suppose I could. We’re heading into the festive season and, if the whim takes me, I could set off right now for town, while it’s nice and quiet and all the poor suckers are still at their desks, and shop til I drop. Nor do I need permission from a line manager to go to the mid-morning nativity play and if I fancy a bit too much mulled wine with afternoon tea, well, who’s gonna know?

The reality is quite different. My own phone is also my work phone. My laptop is also my telly. Every *ping* on the school run or during Holby City drags me back to my virtual desk. I’ve got one eye on the nativity and another on my inbox and if I do decide to crack into the mulled wine and mince pies, you can bet your life there’s going to be an urgent brief lands as soon as I’ve got the cushions just so.

Responsiveness is key. Answer an email, jump on a call – if the client wants it, we’ll do it (within reason). All so you don’t have your head turned by someone else. The thought of leaving my phone at home to go on holiday makes me break out in a cold sweat. What if a juicy commission comes in? What if my client finds someone else while I’m gone? You’ll never email a freelancer and get an out-of-office back.

So, in many ways, I envy the office workers who can take off their lanyards and shrug off the office for the day. I envy the higher-ups their gatekeepers who insist that their boss is on holiday and absolutely cannot be disturbed (seriously, I was incandescent when someone wouldn’t text their holidaying colleague to ask where they’d stored their headshot. I mean, really?!). But I don’t envy them their holiday prep.

Because while I might be always-on, the prospect of a looming holiday can fill your average salaried Joe with dread. All the people they need to hand off responsibilities to, the briefings they need to give, all the tasks they need to complete – on top of the day job – just so the place doesn’t grind to a halt in their absence. And the less said about the mountain of emails waiting for when they get back, the better.

Christmas is no different except, instead of handing off tasks to colleagues, they’re all on holiday too. What you’ve got now is a mountain of work with no-one around to do it. There’s a nagging feeling while you sip your eggnog that you’re going to come back to work on 2nd January with a semi-permanent hangover, two-stone heavier, a wallet several hundred pounds lighter and a workload that would drive you to drink if you hadn’t rashly promised to do Dry January.

Knackered employees do no-one any good. Workloads (or presenteeism – it’s not always down to the employer cracking the whip) meant that 52% of American employees ended their year with unused holiday. That added up to 705 million days of unused vacation time in the US in 2017. And that was an increase on the year before.

Knackered employees do no-one any good. Workloads .. meant that 52% of American employees ended their year with unused holiday.

When they are taking holidays, there are signs that the break is doing them no good at all. It’s either too short to recharge, or they’re still too emotionally invested in what’s going on in the office. Even if they aren’t being called on or emailed, the worry that it’s all going wrong without them is enough to make the break almost pointless.

The Christmas season is a good time to get taking a break right. Let’s face it, unless we’re part of the emergency services or customer-facing, it’s completely possible to take the full week from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day away from the office. There’s none of that nagging sensation that there are people in work who need you – everyone’s in the same boat. Provided the right plans are in place, this is a real opportunity to kick back and relax.

In the publishing world, we all start planning for Christmas in July, often even a good deal earlier. I often think it would be good if employers helped their staff do that too. What does it say about you as an organization if your staff come back from a break more frazzled than when they left (indeed, the fact that they’re frazzled when they go on holiday is bad enough)?

Scheduling tools and automated systems mean there’s a huge amount companies can set up to make sure their business doesn’t grind to a halt when their employees do. If you’re trying to figure out how to gift your employees a happy, healthy Christmas break, you could do worse than checking out this success story from censhare and a national US retailer customer, on how it managed to take the load off its employees’ shoulders. And the best bit? Christmas is just one week of the year – these guys are now doing it all year round.

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