Festive Celebrations: Human Resource Impacts and Costs of Christmas
13 December 2016
By Chris Rowley
Professor Chris Rowley is a Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of London Cass Business School, where he was the founding Director of the Centre for Research on Asian Management. He is also Visiting Fellow at Nottingham University’s Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies, Adjunct Professor at Griffith University’s Asia Institute and Asian Studies Department, Australia, and Professorial Fellow at Korea University’s Institute of Hallyu Convergence Research. He edits Asia Pacific Business Review (Routledge) and the Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management (Emerald) and serves on many journal Editorial Boards. He is also Book Series Editor of Working in Asia (Routledge), Asian Studies (Elsevier) and Asian Business and Management Studies (World Scientific Press).
Festive celebrations vary around the world in number, type and length. However, they all come with some sort of HR cost. Here we use the example of Christmas in the UK, a period for merry-making and family get-togethers.
Festive celebrations are an integral part of UK working life in December, a busy and stressful period both personally and professionally. As a time of increased consumption and consumer spending the festive period is thought to bring a profits bonanza to businesses, especially in the retail and service sectors. Indeed, we spent nearly £73b on Christmas in 2013, an average of £488 per person, including over £1.37b on greetings cards alone.[i]
However, research into the Christmas ‘habits’ of UK businesses and workers shows that there are also costs and they can also feel the strain around the festive period. There is the ‘Scroogenomics’ of Waldfogel’s[ii] ‘deadweight loss of Christmas’ with ‘inefficient gift giving’. There are also other losses. Company productivity, downtime, corporate gifts and the (in)famous Christmas party are costs for businesses and impact on employee stress and motivation.[iii]
December was the most stressful time of year for 42% of workers,[iv] with the need to balance work responsibilities with family life (for 38%) and colleagues taking holidays before the end of the year (for 32%) the main causes. The office Christmas party did little to relieve this stress as two-fifths (37%) did not want to go because they wanted to keep work and family life separate (41%) or it clashed with family duties (24%). Indeed, the cost in lost working hours to UK plc has been given as £541m, with more than one-half of staff wasting the first 4 hours of the day recovering from the night before and 1 in 5 throwing a sickie, with Wrexham the office party capital with its 77% drop in productivity the morning after, followed by Glasgow (a 61% fall) and Newcastle (a 60% fall).[v] However, nearly two-thirds (62%) of firms had not held a party in recent years and over one-third (34%) of employees thought too little was spent, under one-fifth (18%) too much and over one-third (34%) thought it a waste of money.[vi]
All in all festive entertaining and employee stress over Christmas preparations cost UK plc £8 billion in 2005[vii] equivalent to nearly £11.08 billion[viii] in 2016 in December through reduced worker productivity.[ix] From 18 December, with 5 full working days to go, nearly one-half the workforce hit ‘festive fizzleout’ leaving them spending more time worried about Christmas festivities rather than work, affecting productivity[x]. Over two-thirds (68%) of workers were less productive throughout the whole of December compared to other months, with nearly one-half admitting they did 10%-20% less work and 1 in 6 some 20%-30% less. Reasons for reductions in output included a combination of exhaustion, lack of motivation and hangovers. In detail[xi]:
– 60% were less productive because they over-indulged and ate and drank the wrong things.
– 90% expected to attend at least 4 Christmas lunches, which, at an average 2,000 calories per meal with all the trimmings, accounted for 80% of the full day’s recommended calorific intake for men and the full allowance for women.[xii]
– Nearly one-third (27%) drank more than 1 bottle of wine with each work-related Christmas lunch.
– 10% blamed hangovers for reduced output, with women being nearly twice as likely to be more hungover in December than at any other time of the year compared to men.
– One-third felt physically exhausted at the end of the year.
– 10% had been ill over the Christmas break as a result of pre-Christmas over-indulgence.
– ‘Festive fizzelout’ hit women harder than men, with nearly twice as many women more concerned by Christmas compared to men.
– As a result of stressful December and Christmas entertaining, over one-half did not expect to feel rested on returning in the New Year, with women feeling less rested than men.
– It was easy to gain as much as 2kg over Christmas, especially since we commonly consume 6,000 calories just on Christmas day.
Amount of exercise needed to work off those Christmas treats
|1 portion (100g) Christmas pudding (500cal)||2½ hours walking|
|1 mince pie (250cal)||½ hour running|
|2 glasses red wine (160cal)||½ hour tennis|
|1 glass champagne (100cal)||20 mins dancing|
|1 bite-size speciality chocolate (80cal)||10 mins aerobics|
|1 mini sausage roll (180cal)||25 mins swimming|
If all this sounds too much ‘baa humbug’, of course, what the above does not estimate or measure is the ‘happiness’ created by such things as gift-giving and convivial parties, irrespective of the ‘costs’ – economic, health, etc. In which case we should recall Layard’s[xiii] work on the benefits of happiness, especially on areas such as mental health.
[ii] J. Waldfogel (2009) Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays, Princeton University Press
[iv] Research conducted for MetLife by Consumer Intelligence on 1-4 December 2015 with nationally representative online sample of 1,067 full time employees aged 18+.
[v] Research by Travelodge (2015)
[vii]. Research for Avenance report by Experian’s consumer research service Canvasse Opinion using quantitative online methodology between 18-24 November 2005 with 1,004 respondents.
[ix] Productivity figure calculated by taking annual UK GDP figure divided by 12 for a monthly average. 68.3% of this monthly average was then calculated, as this was the proportion of workers who claimed they are less productive in December. Calculations of lost productivity based on an average rate of 15% less activity in December.
[x] Research for Avenance report by Experian’s consumer research service Canvasse Opinion using quantitative online methodology between 18-24 November 2005 with 1,004 respondents
[xi] Research for Avenance report by Experian’s consumer research service Canvasse Opinion using quantitative online methodology between 18-24 November 2005 with 1,004 respondents
[xiii] R. Layard (2006) Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, Penguin Books
© Professor Chris Rowley