Holidays, Vacations, and Office Etiquette

I thought today might be an interesting open thread — how does your office handle the holidays? Is it big enough that you can take time off whenever you want? Is it so small that you have to ask for permission before you schedule holiday plans? For those of you who do usually work over the holidays, is it generally slow — and if so do you use the time to be super productive (e.g., zeroing out your inbox), or do you take it super slow yourself (come late, leave early, have long lunches)? Do you travel over the holidays, either to visit family or to take advantage of some of the great vacation deals we see around now? (Pictured.)

For my $.02: I’ve always gone home to Ohio for the holidays. When I was working in BigLaw it was never an issue when I booked the flights — I was usually lucky enough to not be doing anything that required me to be in the office, so I could always work from afar if I needed to. When I moved to a much smaller office for a nonprofit, though, it was considered a courtesy that you had to ask (pretty far in advance!) if you wanted to take time off, to ensure that our vacations didn’t overlap too much. Funnily enough, I don’t even remember what the “office etiquette” was in my first few years out of college (which tells me that I was probably totally ignorant of it and planned my holiday vacation whenever I wanted to).

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Let’s hear it, readers — what is the office etiquette regarding holidays and vacations in your office? Have you ever worked with someone who you thought really breached office etiquette around this time of year?

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  1. Totally depends on the office!

    I work from home now, so I just sent my boss an email saying “I plan to take off days XYZ. Does that work?”

  2. For our firm, we were asked to give our managers a heads up “as soon as we knew” before the Thanksgiving holiday what our plans were for the rest of the year. Since I work in a large pool of paralegals for approximately 7 attorneys and usually end up backing someone up (including my manager) on a weekly basis, I let him know I was headed home before Thanksgiving. As soon as my tickets were booked (about mid-November), I sent in the formal request for FTO.

    Everything seems to be working out swell, but he was very glad for the heads up I gave him pre-Thanksgiving that I would be gone for Yule.

  3. Not appropriate to schedule a long absence between Christmas and New Year’s for this transactional ‘r e t t e (i.e., this year I will be out 24/25 but in the rest of the week). Year end deals are too common for it to be acceptable to even ask for the week off far enough in advance to make serious travel plans).

    Sometimes the deals die and the week is slow, which means a mix of productivity (organizing files and shipping stuff to storage) and taking it easy (lighter hours).

    • Similarly, as a transactional lawyer, taking time off at the end of the year is difficult for me. At the moment I have two deals to close before the end of the year. I’ll be taking the 24th, 25th and 26th but other than that have no holiday plans. Who knows, if things end up being spectacularly under control I may be able to take an extra day, but I haven’t formally scheduled anything.

    • Being a litigator by training, I never realized what a nightmare the end of the year is for you guys! I work with a former transactional lawyer now and she’s in heaven NOT having to be glued to her cell phone throughout Christmas dinner since she retired from practice.

    • emcsquared :

      Ugh, our transactional tax practice was already down 1 person due to maternity leave (she feels terrible, but we knew it was coming and the higher ups could have easily staffed around it), lost another one to an injury, and then one of the partners decided to take a month long trip but didn’t tell anyone until a week in advance. It’s awful – working until midnight, waking up in cold sweats worrying about how I’m going to get everything done, partners screaming at me in the halls because I don’t have capacity to review their tax allocations or whatever at the last minute and there isn’t anybody else available.

      So much as I would be put out to have to request vacation time, I really *wish* my section had some kind of vacation policy to protect the employees from burnout. I suspect we’ll see some attrition in January as a result.

      • What a nightmare. Transactional practice is always terrible at year-end, but I forget that it is 10x worse for tax specialists, especially when the corporate partners have no sense of how many people are vying for your time.

        • Well oops I didn’t realize this was from last year. Hope emcsquared survived last year and that your group is managing it better this year!

  4. I work in a two person office, so it is a very informal policy (besides, we are generally closed for the holidays anyway).

    My husband, on the other hand, needs to put in formal requests and get holiday time approved, but that is because he works in a 24/7/365 operation.

  5. I try not to be a scrooge, but I am a fan of communicating early on vacation day requests – especially in a small office around the holidays. I encourage my staff to schedule their vacation at least 6 weeks out and make sure the entire department knows. This can impact when meetings are scheduled, realistic deadlines, etc.

    Also – and again this may be unique to a small office – I want at least one person from a department present on any given day. That means that if you didn’t put in vacation request time around the holidays in time… well, sometimes it takes some teamwork to plan vacations and make sure someone is there to represent their department.

  6. Diana Barry :

    Unfortunately, my area requires year-end work a lot of the time. At my biglaw #1 job, it was fine for me to take off bc I wasn’t really involved in the complex year-end gifting instruments. At biglaw #2 job, my boss really looked down on anyone taking time, so I think I was off 23-26th and back in the office for the 27-31st (and still got disapproval from the boss). Now at my small firm, I check in with my boss and see what time I can take off.

    This year is particularly bad bc the tax laws may be changing, but nobody knows to what…

  7. I work over the holidays because I don’t’ celebrate Christmas and everyone but one other person in my department does. It is SO BUSY. It’s the end of the year, there is a ton of year-end stuff to wrap up, plus I have to cover for all the people who are out. My office usually gives us a floating day off to use around the holidays in addition to Christmas Day and New Year’s, and I have never been able to take it because there’s so much work. I’ve pointed this out numerous times and asked that the floating day be available for use anytime so that those of us who aren’t Christian can use it, but so far, no dice. So the winter holidays are basically the bane of my professional existence.

  8. We have a vacation calendar that covers the whole year – where everyone plots in their vacation days. Theoretically I guess we’re meant to ask the boss if it is okay, but as long as we try to manage to schedule it around each other, so at least one person is in the office – she’s good.

    It usually helps that without kids and SO, I’m fairly flexible so I’ll try to take my holiday time in the summers or autumn when the schools aren’t out yet so those with kids can get that part of the holiday. This Christmas, though, I’m taking two weeks. (It sounds much more than it is, but since we’re closed for 24, 25, 26, and the weekends come strategically, and we’re off on 1 & 2, I’m only spending four of my vacation days for 2012 – and using some saved up time for the remaining day.)

  9. Small law firm. Typically we schedule things so the holiday season is dead, and, as most of our opposing counsel and judges are also out, it’s unlikely that there will be any fires to put out. Because of that, most of us just stay on top of our emails, maybe put in a half day here or there, but otherwise tune out between the 22nd and 2nd.

    Otherwise for non-holiday season vacation, plans and scheduling are just sort of figured out as they arise. If I’m going to take a 3 or 4 day weekend, and I’ve got nothing on my plate, I’ll just tell people. If I’m planning a longer, real vacation, then there might be a back and forth discussion about when to schedule it.

    • TO Lawyer :

      Ya this is us. Our firm generally closes for the week in between Christmas and New Years (although this hasn’t been confirmed yet) so I can work from wherever I am (although hopefully I won’t have to)

  10. I think this is office-specific.

    In advertising, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is extremely slow. Last year, our office gave us two extra days off and I spent the rest of the time organizing my inbox. This year, husband and I decided to take advantage of the slowness and fly to Tokyo. I formally told my manager about 3 weeks ago and put in my official request last week. Several people in the office are taking trips that week and management doesn’t care- no one’s around to do business anyway.

    Husband is in biglaw. He was pretty slow over the holidays last year. However, he sends notifications and has conversations with the partners on his cases about being out months in advance. I think he first notified his group about our Tokyo trip in October.

    Perhaps that’s just a law thing. He made sure everyone was aware he was taking some days off for our wedding, and his blackberry still lit up with emails from Senior Associates asking for stuff.

  11. We get Dec.25 and 26 and Jan.1 off as statutory holidays (or the days nearest if anything falls on a weekend). I actually really like to work on the days between christmas and new years – the office is quiet, customers are usually off as well, and it’s usually a good chance to catch up on some side projects. This year I need to stay anyway as part of a major IT change taking effect Jan.1, so I volunteered to be the point contact for my department (we need someone to be in the office as a human voice, even if it’s just to say “we’ll take care of it next week”).

    I host my family on the 24th, and have never had trouble getting that off. Then again, I always put in a vacation request in January for any known dates I need to be off for the calendar year (routine medical tests that I have booked a year out, christmas, and this year I’ll even be reserving a week for early next December for a family vacation). If I don’t know about days I’d like off in January, I request them as soon as I do know. Sometimes my requests are more of an FYI than a real request though (see: medical tests that I have to book a year out and are a huge PITA to reschedule). While I do have customer visits to work around, I’ve never yet had a problem finding a mutually acceptable date (for example, having to delay a site visit for a week because my spouse would be out of town the week the customer first suggested, and I wasn’t willing to leave my kids with a sitter overnight for 3 days).

    I think being willing to cover for other folks is helpful though – I’m in the office on the 27/28 this year, so someone else is willing to cover my calls for the 24th.

  12. Despite being in a larger firm, we’re a bit lax about vacation time. With the exception of larger, multi-day vacations, it’s not uncommon to take a day or two providing your schedule permits. I’ve taken most of my time off piece-meal, with the exception of a week-long trip I took earlier in the year.
    I never travel for the holidays (my dad’s my only close family locally and there’s no extended family I particularly want to go see), so I tend to not take time off around the holidays. I’d rather let people with families and such they want to see have that chance. My firm and the courts tend to get really quiet the last two weeks of the year. So I use this as a chance to catch up on emails, discovery, and take the occassional 2-hour lunch.

  13. Woods-comma-Elle :

    In my small-ish team in BigLaw this has proven to be a bit of a drama. Two of our families are 2000+ miles away, one guy worked last year so is taking off this year, one person who recently started already booked Christmas off and the office is closed on Christmas Eve. So it’s been difficult because basically everyone will be off and if something kicks off workwise, I will not be getting home for Christmas.

    It’s hard because even though on the one hand I don’t expect special treatment because my family is so far away, but on the other hand it is much more of a hassle for me to go home over Christmas than the people whose families are 20 minutes away. If my parents were in London, then I would have no problem working between Christmas and New Year, but when it takes me 7 hours and $500 to go home every time, it’s a lot harder. Also, Christmas Eve is a holiday at home, so if I had to work Christmas Eve, I would basically miss Christmas as there are no flights on that day (and this is when we celebrate Christmas).

    I’m quite happy to work remotely, but I can’t help but feel that if there is an option where someone misses Christmas with their family and an option where nobody does, the logical option would be the latter…

    Of course I realise that I’m fortunate that I have time off even though it is subject to work, when in many other firms everyone would probably be in all over Christmas every year working on an end-of-year deal…

  14. I work in the court system and we are actually encouraged to take that last week off. I have to let the administration know in advance if I plan to come in because the default is that you take leave.

  15. Temping in finance = vacation what vacation? I get the 25th off and I get the 1st off. Beyond that and the office closing early on the 24th, that’s all I’ve got.

    Of course, I could probably schedule unpaid time off, but I just started in mid-November, so it’s not happening.

  16. Socksberg :

    I will be working the week of Christmas from home, rather than in the office because most of my coworkers are taking off. I don’t celebrate Christmas so I always plan to work so others who do celebrate can take the time off and know there is coverage. The upside to working when everyone else is off is that it will be very relaxed and I am unlikely to have full days of work.

  17. Diana Barry :

    Shoot, just remembered I have to get my assistant a gift. Can I get a quick poll of how much you plan to give your assistant if in a smaller firm? I am a senior associate, if that matters.

    • Also senior associate, but in Canada so perhaps the norms are different? Not planning to give cash, but maybe a $100 gift card to our very nice department store here.

    • emcsquared :

      I give $50 for every year my assistant has been with me, plus flowers or a small decoration or dog treat that I know my assistant will like. DH gives $100 per year, but that’s getting a little rich for our paychecks now so we’re thinking of capping it.

    • I give my assistant $150 and a small gift that I know she will like. She is a huge loose tea fan, but it is a luxury for her so this year she is getting two tins of loose tea and a cute individual steeping tea pot – plus the Amex gift card. I am a senior assoiate in a 15 lawyer firm

    • I share an assistant with another attorney, and we were going to put in $50 each for a gift card. The office also does bonuses, so this is not the only thing she gets, just something extra to show our appreciation.

    • Another question: I had my assistant for the first time last year. I gave her $100 and a small gift. Do I have to give her a “raise”? I’d prefer to stick with $100 again. I’m not sure if it matters, but I was out for four months this year.

  18. anony ms. :

    Of course workplaces have to coordinate people’s vacation so that there is coverage. I realize someone always gets the short end of the stick, but if the business is open then you should expect that if you are new, or if you have already used a lot of your vacation, then you might have to work. The good news is that the offices will be quiet and you can probably take long lunches.

    What I don’t appreciate is when staff gets all pouty that I’m even asking. Naturally, they all expect the 26-28 off, but didn’t think to tell anyone in advance.

    • WorkingMom :

      That’s how we are – you can’t have PTO unless you have a back up in the office. We are part of a massive corporation, but our local office is quite small (about 150). We used to be closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s, now we are open and I asked someone to be my back up in August for the holidays. It sucks because half the team has to be in the office. The office is closed Christmas Day and New Years Day. So, while I’m enjoying time off this year, next year I’ll likely have be in the office covering for someone else.

      Year-end in corporate wellness is very busy, and I have several major accounts kicking off in Q1, so even while I’m off I plan to check email on my phone periodically, and probably log in on my laptop once a day.

  19. We’re spending a very quiet Christmas with my in-laws, who live nearby, so I’m not taking any time off to let others (especially those with family on the west coast or those with children who will be on school vacation) take that time off.

  20. SugarMagnolia :

    I work in a 20 attorney public interest law firm, and this is my first Christmas here. Based on my experience with Firm #1 I worked at previously, I will likely be not working at all the 22nd through the 25th, and with a light day (come in late, leave early if work permits) on the 21st and 26th.