Holiday Curtailment isn’t Humbug!

Have you ever heard of work curtailment? This is when a company shuts down operations and EVERYONE turns off their computers, locks their desks, and goes home.  A curtailment usually happens between two holidays or during a time when the business is very slow. This can be an excellent strategy to boost morale and productivity. While this is not possible for every business or organization (police, firefighters, first responders, hospital staff, essential public utilities staff, and essential public transportation personnel for example) and certainly not a policy Scrooge would have tried, many businesses can control their production and can choose to slow down as an organization.

Here are just a few of the reasons to consider curtailment as well as suggestions on how to set up a curtailment for your business:

No Return-to-Work Nightmare

Many people say that they almost dread taking vacation because of the stress of getting everything organized before leaving and then coming back to work completely swamped with a week or two of backlogged emails, missed meetings, and undone tasks. Maybe this is why Americans are particularly bad at taking their vacation days – vacation isn’t exactly relaxing when there is hell to pay when you get back. In a curtailment, the entire organization slows down. To the absolute extent possible, everyone is off or working at a minimum, which means that when everyone comes back, they are not greeted by the return-to-work nightmare that is normally waiting for them.

Hitting Peak Performance as a Team

Optimal experience is when your attention on a task is so focused you forget about all other things; you are immersed in the experience. You are in the "flow[1]" and it is both enjoyable and produces peak work. Fatigued people are unlikely to reach these peak performance states because they can't focus. Their attention divides. Distractions win. Finding ways to recharge, rest, and rejuvenate can help productivity. Now imagine if your entire organization is ready to hit peak performance at the same time. They come back from curtailment ready to hit the ground running on new, exciting, business expanding work

More than Forty-Two Million Grateful Parents

Twenty-one million households with children under 18 have two working parents and another 14 million more are managed by single parents. When children are out of school between Christmas and New Year’s and at other times like Spring Break, many employees with children want time off to be with their children. If only a limited number of team members can take vacation because of customer service needs, employees end up competing for time off. When parents can’t get time off, they are distracted and anxious trying to juggle work and finding someone to take care of their kids. Let’s not forget they are probably also dealing with the guilt or disappointment of working instead of enjoying family events.  Not a golden time of production or creativity, right? Officially curtailing work will certainly relieve and hearten parents.  They will be very grateful to work for a family-friendly organization that helps them meet their parenting responsibilities and supports their family.

Appeal to Prospective Employees

Millennials are a work-hard-during-work-hours-but-I-want-a-life group. Time-off is a very attractive work benefit to many educated, in-demand professions. In highly competitive industries, curtailment may be something you offer that other businesses don't.

Cost-savings and Maintenance Window

Want to trim the budget or redirect saved utilities cost for new equipment? With everyone out of the building at the same time, you can reduce lighting, heating, cooling, and water usage. Businesses can save and large business can save thousands of dollars cutting back services and reducing utility consumption during a curtailment. Curtailment can also be a great time to   hire outside maintenance services to complete disruptive cleaning or repair work. Employees will be glad to be spared the distraction of noisy machinery and headache-inducing paint

If any of these ideas have you thinking about the advantages of curtailment, here are some next steps to implement:

1.Schedule the curtailment. Pick a time for your business that is traditionally slow. For some businesses, the time from Christmas the New Year’s is ideal. For retail business “or those organizations with high end-of-year work, look at your business to find a natural fit for slowing everything down. Scheduling    it to coincide with existing holidays to add a few extra days would create a perfect curtailment opportunity.

2.Decide your policy. You can:

  a.Allow employees to "bank" compensatory time the remainder of the year to use.

  b.Allow any employee time-off (sick, vacation, or personal time) to be used.

  c.Allow employees to take off as "leave without pay" if they would prefer time-off over compensation

U.C. Berkeley used curtailment, and you can read their policy page here.

3.Give everyone ample notice, and make sure you are working with any employment organizations, collective bargaining units, etc. to make the transition. You may need to have a "recommended" curtailment schedule policy at first, and move to full curtailment over time.

Getting away from it all as an organization provides opportunities to reduce costs, enhance the work environment, and heighten employee morale. Returning to work rested and refreshed as a team will launch your organization into the future with maximum creativity, energy, and success.

Happy Holidays and a Happy, Prosperous 2017!

Maze Runners Consulting


[1]If you need some holiday reading -  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by M. Csikszentmihalyi is the ground-breaking book about how to achieve peak performance.

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