The Evolution of Company Holidays

4 min. read

From floating holidays to company-wide vacations, these special days can get your employees to take the break they need

A few weeks back we posted an article called "The Paid Time Off Pickle." In the article, we discussed how "52% of employees reported that they do not take all of the time off that they are offered" and that most of those employees wanted to take the time off but chose not to. When this choice becomes a habit, it increases the risk of employee unhappiness and burnout.

In that article we also addressed some of the reasons why this happens: many employees choose to skip time off because they had too much work to do or were worried about how their supervisor might view the time away from work. We also offered a few high level suggestions on how to address the problem. Today, we want to highlight 3 variations on one powerful tool that can ensure employees get the time off they need: Holidays.

Recognized Holidays

This first kind of holiday is a familiar one. Companies typically have a list of recognized holidays on which they will close up offices and stop work for the day (or the weekend). Most commonly they follow national "bank" holidays or federal holidays. Not all companies can provide a day off for recognized holidays—certain kinds of businesses have to keep full staff on these days—but where possible companies should ensure these days off or risk badly disappointing employees.

Floating Holidays

Floating holidays are a paid day off that each employee can decide when to take. Originally conceived as a way to ensure that people from different cultural and religious backgrounds could take the days off that are important for them, companies are increasingly using them to provide a substantial amount of time-off, no questions asked.

This option is—at a minimum—a popular method for ensuring diverse employees have the ability to observe holidays in their own ways. "The reality is that most organizations consider employees of different backgrounds to benefit from getting time off for the Christmas holiday. That's nice, but it's not really recognizing or being uber-inclusive to individuals that don't celebrate that day." Says Miriam Dushane from Alaant Workforce Solutions. Floating holidays are probably the simplest, most convenient way to be inclusive and give employees the ability to take their own holidays for observance.

But there is more to the power of the floating holiday. Employees may feel a bit more comfortable using floating holidays than conventional paid time off hours because employees are supposed to use them for personal holiday observances. Employees may have different cultural or religious backgrounds, or just different interests, meaning they could use the holidays on anything from Ramadan to Good Friday, Arbor Day or Black Friday, or any Friday at all. In addition, floating holidays expire each year, adding to the urgency of using them before year-end.

Company Holidays

We love this one. "Company holidays" as we're using it here, means days (outside of commonly observed holidays) that leadership chooses to have the whole company take the day off work. Some companies like to do this on an anniversary that has significance within the company, such as the day it was founded. Other companies like to time these days strategically to provide a break after the most stressful periods of the year are over: for example, an individual tax preparation company that has most of its work between January and April might choose to do a company holiday for the first Friday or Monday in May.

CNBC reported on company holidays last summer, noting that PwC gave its 60,000 U.S. employees two annual company-wide, week-long breaks—one in July and one in December—in addition to vacation time. According to PwC senior partner Tim Ryan, the coordinated break has been very successful. “No doubt about it, this works. The energy and the enthusiasm is amazing, and that translates to my mind to productivity and happier clients at the end of the day." Consider one to four company-wide holidays through the year to ensure that employees are getting some time away from work and celebrating life.

Want to know more about your workplace's feelings on work-life balance and paid time off? Our employee happiness survey can shine a light on this and more. Check it out here. You can also email us at—we love to get mail!