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Kojo Quartey: Vacations, holidays and productivity

by Staff

Last week as we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and legacy of service, many of us had a day off because Dr. King’s birthday is a national federal/public holiday. Earlier in my tenure at the college, it remained a nonholiday until the late Selma Rankins, a local community activist insisted that the college seriously consider making it a holiday. Since then, it has been a holiday at Monroe County Community College.

As we considered adding another day to MCCC’s paid holiday calendar, there were those who argued that it was costly to the institution for paying individuals to not work and that it leads to a loss of productivity. Perhaps, if we were a manufacturing facility charged with producing a thousand widgets a day, then a day off would mean 1,000 fewer widgets that year, times the cost of each widget, say $100, which would mean a loss in productivity of $100,000 for the year.

What if we had a quota of 1 million widgets a year? In that case, a day off would mean there would be appropriate adjustments to still meet that annual quota of 1 million widgets, with no loss in productivity. What does a service organization such as a college like MCCC lose when closed for a holiday? For the most part, the work that is to be done still gets done and employees are given an additional perquisite with that holiday. This may be motivational and improve morale. Human beings are not machines, and even machines need to be taken offline occasionally for rest (resetting, repairs, recalibration, routine maintenance, and other adjustments) to ensure that they are functioning at maximum capacity. As human beings, we need rest — in the form of vacation time, sick time, and holidays. I have not seen any research that shows that more hours of work leads to more productivity. Au contraire, the research shows that time off makes us more productive after we return.

Having a day off for a holiday, vacation, or sick time can have both positive and negative effects on productivity at work. On the positive side, taking time off can help employees recharge, reduce stress, and come back to work replenished with renewed energy and focus. This can lead to increased productivity in the days following the time off. On the negative side, time off may disrupt workflow and create a backlog of tasks, which could temporarily decrease productivity. However, overall, studies have shown that regular breaks and time off can have a positive impact on productivity and employee well-being.

Here in the United States, there are companies that pay individuals the equivalent of 40 hours per week for 32-36 hours of work. In Europe there are several countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Germany, and Iceland taking part in a four-day week pilot. In Belgium, workers have the option and right of working 10 hours for four days (I tried to introduce that my first summer as president at MCCC, and it was not widely accepted or viewed favorably by many staff). In Denmark, the average workweek is 33 hours, in France it is 35 hours (since 2000), in Germany 34 hours, and in the Netherlands, it is 29 hours (the shortest workweek in the world). In Japan, the government in 2021 recommended a four-day work week instead of five. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that shorter workweeks have made these countries less productive.

Personally, I like the five-day week, but an occasional four-day week, which many of us get almost every month is palatable to me. There are public holidays in the months of January (New Year’s and Dr. King’s birthday) February (Washington’s birthday), May (Memorial Day), June (Juneteenth), July (Independence Day), September (Labor Day), November (Veterans and Thanksgiving Days), and December (Christmas). While MCCC is not closed for every one of the above holidays, we are closed for Easter and for a whole week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. There is also the additional perk of being closed on Monday if the one-day holiday falls on a Tuesday. Juneteenth is another day on which we are not closed, but it is a federal holiday and certainly worth considering. I doubt that it would lessen productivity.

— Kojo Quartey, Ph.D., is president of Monroe County Community College and an economist. He may be reached at [email protected].

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