Public Holidays, Talent & Performance

Public Holidays

Let me get off the ground with a sensitive topic: public holidays. As we prepare for the long weekends ahead, it is worthwhile to consider the impact of public holidays on your talent and performance.

Rewind: in the second week of December 2011, government, acting in accordance with the Public Holidays Act, 1994, declared that 27th December was a public holiday. (You didn’t know that the Public Holidays Act existed?). Employers that had not planned for another public holiday, were left scrambling to reschedule their year-end operations. And the additional overtime bill. According to accounting firm, BDO, the estimated loss of turnover in respect of this day, was R 7 billion.

Public Holidays – April

Excluding the festive shutdown in December, for many organisations, April is another month that is best written off. Their talent vanishes; some perform a disappearing act that would make Houdini blush. Others have mentally departed from the building. Depending on the nature of the business, the gap between budgeted and actual numbers widen and deadlines have to be revised (again).

Globally Generous –¬†Public Holidays

Are we taking too much time off? To place our public holidays in the global context, I looked at the latest Worldwide Benefit and Employment Guidelines by Mercer. The number of public holidays in other parts of the world varies from Mexico (7), UK (8) and Brazil & China (11) to Russia (12), India (16) and Columbia (18). When I checked earlier this year, South Africans are officially entitled to 14 days away from the office. We are comfortably sitting in the generous category of the global table.

Public Holidays & Performance

While public holidays provide an opportunity for talent to unwind and return to their job with bubbling energy, it does not necessarily work this way. The real challenge is not with the public holiday, but the losses incurred in the week before and after it. A week or even two, before the long weekend, we mentally slow down. Others shut down completely, so you can forget about getting any productive work from them. The reality is that many talented individuals are occupying the wrong jobs, in the wrong organisation, surrounded by the wrong people. They look forward to the holidays, as temporay, paid relief from their working lives. After we drag ourselves back to the office, the journey to “normal work”, is rather slow.

Managing the impact of Public Holidays

In the short term, it is unlikely that employers can change the number of public holidays. Given the record wage settlements in recent years and falling productivity, employers assisted by HR, should proactively manage the impact on their business.

My first suggestion is to plan projects so that talent are stretched until they leave the office. Instead of pushing deliverables to the other side of the holidays, motivate staff to raise their performance bar. There is great satisfaction in completing an engagement so that you don’t have to worry about it during your public holidays.

Secondly, revisit applications for additional leave. Those employees that take additional leave for extra-long weekends, don’t really help those that are coming to the office. Just spend a Monday morning in the office, when the rest of your department are returning on Tuesday. You are unlikely to perform at your peak. You should have stayed under the duvet. Rather close the department for that day.

Finally, provide opportunities for talent to use their down time for the benefit of the organisation. In the corporate rat race, we often lose time for thinking and reflection. Get your staff to think¬†about the critical problems in the business and their team. They don’t have to undertake any work, just wear their thinking hats over their public holidays. When they return after the break, go through the inputs and use it to engage them further.

I penned this column during my holiday.

(HR Future, April 2011)


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