Tweener week a mystery

Published 10:07 am Friday, December 31, 2010

Something needs to be done about this week, this confusing half-holiday period between Christmas and New Year’s. Are we on vacation? Are we working as usual? Who knows?

The one thing we can be sure of is that there’s no way to be sure who will be at work if you call them there and who won’t, which offices are open and which are closed, who’s home and who is away.

This year, like last, has been particularly difficult because the two holidays fall on a weekend, leaving a week in between where it makes perfect sense to take some time off. The trouble is, there’s no consensus on when the country is doing business and when it is not. A portion of workers took off the first part of the week, some the second, some worked all week and some took a whole week’s vacation.

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Even those who always get this time off — teachers and students, for example — have to be confused. Need to see your tax preparer or attorney? Maybe she’ll be working, maybe not.

Make a service call for any kind of repair and there may well be someone minding the store, but can the over-burdened skeleton crew help with your problem? Not this week.

For many of those who are working, it is even worse. The days drag by without inbound phones ringing and without answers to outbound calls. Trying to do business? Good luck. The person you need to talk to is out.

The whole ‘tweener’ week is a problem. But there is an answer: Make the week between Christmas and New Year’s a national vacation week. Except for those who work in essential and emergency services, this week ought to be one when everyone is assumed to be on vacation. Close the offices, shut down the plants, leave the government on hold. There. It’s done. No more confusion. No more wasted days getting nothing done at work, or feeling guilty for not being at work. Problem solved.

It works in some European countries, where a summer week is often known as a holiday period for most workers.

There are, admittedly, a couple of flies in this ointment, particularly for those who work in retail. In our nation, where shopping is an entertainment and a passion for millions of people, a vacation without every store open for business could be a real crisis. And what store can afford to be closed? It would just drive all those shopaholics to do their business on-line, the store that never closes.

So to those who usually pull some holiday duty — police, nurses, motel employees and others whose jobs won’t wait — we have to add the category of retail employee. But even with that exception, the national vacation might work. Certainly it makes sense for employers, who now are paying about half their employees to work at about half speed during this non-productive week. Even if all non-essential workers took vacation, business productivity couldn’t be less.

In years with weekend holidays, the vacation week could simply absorb the Friday and Monday compensatory holidays that many are taking. That would compress the whole holiday period into one business week, instead or dragging it into parts of two others.

And then everyone would know what to expect: Plan on the office or factory being closed. Go skiing. Go shopping. Play games with the family. Just don’t expect to get anything else done. And don’t go to work unless you really need to.

Maybe the country ought to give this plan a try in 2013. That would give us two years to get ready.

(This column appeared previously.)