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As Work Goes Global, Will Holidays Disappear?

Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., I started to wonder: As the Internet and a more global economy erase the 9-to-5 workday, will they also erode the sense of holidays? Employees are now based around the world and may always be connected, so it’s no longer enough to juggle time zones; you have to juggle differing national and religious holidays, too.

This week I received two requests for a briefing on Thursday from companies in Israel and the U.K., respectively. My husband, who works for a company based in India, had to deflect his superiors when they tried to schedule a U.S. data center tour for Wednesday and Thursday. In each case, when the holiday was explained, both parties backed off, but clearly there are cases when postponing doesn’t work, such as when a major trade show falls on a national holiday or your bosses expect you to be available for a deal’s closing.

Just as connected devices and a sense of always-on connectivity have pushed the boundaries of the workday, will requests such as these pile up to make taking time off during holidays more difficult? For example, who in the U.S. doesn’t try to fit in a little work on Columbus Day? Or maybe Memorial Day? Wikipedia lists an impressive array of holidays for each nation, showing where thanksgivings or national independence days fall. And other religions have many festivals and dates of varying importance.


As a manager, the challenge may be as simple as letting your Orthodox Jewish employees leave Friday afternoons by 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon during winter so they can make it home in time for the Sabbath, or it may be as complex as managing a smallish staff that happens to be dispersed in five or six different countries. In that sort of situation, scheduling meetings or project deadlines can become inordinately complicated.

For an employee, it’s difficult to defend against the expectations of bosses and clients who don’t understand or even know today is a day off. Sure, an employee can communicate that, but a manager doesn’t have to listen, and it’s not as if the employee/boss relationship is completely even. Plus, in a global economy, it’s becoming harder to shut down (or expect a slowdown) during what in the Western world were traditionally dull times in August or the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Given that some workers don’t take their vacation days, and those naturally slow times in the business might be the sole respite that hardworking or important employees get, is there any reason to hope employees will be diligent defending their holidays? This year, for example, several big stories were announced in August, indicating that bankers, lawyers, and executives were putting off vacations and keeping analysts, reporters, and other folk on their toes. Given the growing economic power of China, the Chinese New Year (falling in 2012 on Jan. 23) pads what might be a traditionally dull quarter for some companies, but it also means the weeks between Christmas and New Year’s requires production lines to run and companies to do business.

So grayer boundaries, a power imbalance between employees and their bosses, and the nonstop speed of the global economy combine to make holidays more important than ever—but also more difficult to take. For more implications of a broadband connected workplace, come to our GigaOM Net:Work conference on Dec. 8, when we’ll explore issues related to communicating, inspiring, and managing remote workers.

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Higginbotham is a writer for GigaOM.

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