This week, prompted by reports of the ongoing Covid enquiry in the UK, I recalled with a shudder the deprivations of lockdowns and shutdowns during that rather surreal time. All over the world different countries had differing ideas on what should and should not continue but here in Botswana I recall being appalled when such businesses as auto service garages and tyre shops were forced to shut their doors, meaning that whilst residents were able to use their vehicles to purchase necessities such as food and medicine, the normally minor inconvenience of a punctured tyre could well have made acquiring those items an absolute nightmare; and much the same would have gone for home maintenance companies – what were you expected to do if you had an electrical or water supply problem when all technicians were told to stay home?

Thankfully that nightmare period is behind us now and fingers crossed, it will never recur in any of our lifetimes. However – and this is the nub of this week’s column – Christmas is looming, a time when we experience another form of corporate lockdown, when many businesses close, some for as long as 3 – 4 weeks! And if you’ve ever had a serious issue such as a complete home power failure over this period – I have! – you will be aware of what an inconvenience that really can be. Also let’s not forget that almost unique to our corner of the world, our newspapers also stop printing, thus depriving you all of my words of wisdom for a couple of weeks! Joking aside, since when did news take a festive break?

These days, most shops trade throughout the holiday period and our local supermarkets even open on Christmas Day itself. But just as during Covid, our garages close so heaven help you if you have a breakdown and many similarly life-saving service industries also resemble the Marie Celeste – completely and utterly deserted!

So much from the consumer’s point of view but I am well aware that many of you reading this may very well be relishing the prospect of your own organisation closing its doors so you can pack up and head for the hills or simply stay home and put your feet up. Other business owners amongst you will also be preparing for your annual shutdown, a time to unwind and not worry about work for while. But is that the right attitude?

Setting aside the sometimes-selfish demands of customers and consumers, there are definitely pros and cons to a holiday shutdown which need to be weighed up and fully considered.
It’s safe to say most staff are all in favour of having an extended amount of time off at the end of the year, but employers faced with a competitive business environment, might be tempted to forgo the Christmas shutdown. There’s a trade-off between the choice of employee satisfaction and enhanced productivity but there’s much more at stake here.

Business owners may need to consider whether staying open between Christmas and New Year will actually increase their company’s output when perhaps their employees are going to be overworked and stressed to the point of counter-productivity. On the other hand, there are benefits to keeping the doors open, such as getting a competitive edge on the opposition who are at home chugging beer and scarfing down mince pies or grabbing some UVs on the beach in Durban!
Daniel Ball, co-founder of e-procurement firm Wax Digital, succinctly breaks down both sides of the Christmas shutdown argument.

Why you should stay open over Christmas

‘Objectively speaking, Christmas is a challenging time for businesses on almost every level. Companies that choose to close their doors for the holidays can face enormous financial pressures, not only in the run-up to and during the festive season, but in its aftermath as well. Think about it: at what other time of the year would a company justify downing tools for as long a period?

Sure, most other businesses are closed, and customers may not be as active, but there’s still the risk of a drop in sales, enquiries, production and overall business momentum, which could have a major impact on your bottom line in the new year. And the festive period isn’t just limited to the week surrounding Christmas. From as early as November, businesses need to start preparing for the annual yuletide closedown, which can prove a costly distraction in terms of productivity and employee impetus.

Its impact can also be felt in the New Year, with a drop in staff morale and the pinch of poor January trading, making for lacklustre business conditions. So, from a purely objective standpoint, the Christmas shutdown has the potential to do more harm than good.

Surely, then, it would be better to stay open between Christmas and New Year? Giving businesses extra time to secure custom and finalise projects ahead of the New Year.’

Getting a step ahead by working over Christmas

‘Business productivity is one of the biggest advantages of staying open over the Christmas holiday. With no hard deadlines or extra preparation to attend to, businesses can continue to focus on their primary objectives, with no distractions or unnecessary tasks that could stifle company momentum.

And, while I’m still on the advantages of staying open over Christmas, there’s also the matter of extra sales and the potential to gain a head-start on competitors going into the New Year. With other businesses closed, those that remain open can reap the rewards of additional custom – putting them in a strong position as they head into the formative January trading period.

To conclude then: while staying open over Christmas undoubtedly has its advantages for businesses in specific sectors, the impact this could have on the productivity and morale of your workforce may offset any short-term financial successes you achieve.’

There are other considerations. Most self-employed folk, especially those working from home, will continue to function, holiday notwithstanding, though their own output might be adversely affected by their clients’ decisions to close. It’s their bread and butter and if their work is curtailed, that may very well be all they have for their Christmas dinner!

And from a religious standpoint, whilst Christmas is arguably the most important date in the Christian calendar – the clue’s in the name! – the date is meaningless to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Indeed, I could make a much more cogent argument for Muslim business owners to close during their period of Ramadan; as for Jews, it’s purely coincidental that Hanukah occurs around the same period as Christmas so they are able to celebrate. But both those examples miss the point which is that in any given company there will be employees of many faiths and doesn’t everyone relish an employer-sanctioned time-out, no matter what its historical or religious origin?

In case you’re wondering, our own office will be closed as usual since it’s a fair assumption that with so many other businesses similarly ‘resting’, there’s a corresponding reduction in all things human resources. That said, clearly, there’s a case to be made for both open and shut. The only thing that isn’t is the argument itself.