Survey: 2003 YE Leave Policies Shine But Other Perks Suffer

December 2, 2003 ( - The holiday spirit is apparently making employers more generous with their year-end leave policies, but that doesn't necessarily mean weeks of holiday partying and general corporate ho-ho-ho's.

A survey of 339 HR and employee relations executives by Washington-based legal publisher BNA found that the continuing economic uncertainty is dampening some employer outlays for year-end bonuses and holiday festivities.

As far as leave is concerned, the 2003 calendar encourages more generous paid time off at Christmas and New Year’s since both Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Thursdays. That makes it easier for employers to offer extended holiday time off during those periods, BNA said. Some 33% said they are likely to give workers December 26 off, up from 10% last year. Similarly 10% of employers also plan to let workers stay home January 2 on paid leave, up from 1% a year earlier.

Generally, fewer than four days off with pay remains the norm for holiday leave schedules. Seven in ten surveyed employers will grant either two to two and a half days (34%) or three to three and a half days (36%) with pay during the 2003/2004 holiday season. Lights will be on at many facilities during the coming holidays with 47% having warm bodies in the office this Christmas, New Year’s Day or both. Security, public safety and maintenance workers are among those most likely to be called to work by their employers.

End-of-year bonuses have been impacted by economic concerns. According to the survey, less than one-fifth of organizations (18%) plan to give holiday bonuses this year, down from last year’s 21%. A substantial drop in the tendency of firms with 1,000 or more employees to award cash gifts or bonuses appears to be driving this decline, the BNA said. While employer gift giving has remained fairly stable over the past 10 years, never dropping below 20% and only once rising above 25%, the current trend represents an overall decline from the previous decade (1984 to 1993), when the proportion of those giving gifts hovered between 25% and 29%.

Giving Gifts

Just over one-fifth of organizations (22%) plan to give workers gifts of food or merchandise this holiday season. This includes:

  • gift certificates for merchandise (27%)
  • gift certificates for groceries (14%)
  • actual turkeys (12%).

Acceptance of outside gifts has also been impacted, according to the survey. Employers are outlining stricter policies on the acceptance of outside gifts because of increasing sensitivity to conflicts of interest that may arise when workers accept gifts from vendors, suppliers, and others with whom they have business relationships. Survey responses also indicate that a higher percentage of organizations will either place a cap on the value of permissible gifts (21% compared with 16% last year), or will not permit the acceptance of any gift items (21% compared with 17% last year).

Organizationwide parties continue to be the most common holiday celebrations sponsored by employers. For the past decade, more than half of responding establishments have hosted parties for all or most of their employees, according to BNA. This year is no exception, as 55% of surveyed establishments are planning such events.

But don’t look for quite as many open bars or employees showing up with their “significant others” or clients. Fewer companies plan to cover costs associated with alcoholic beverages or invite outside guests to sponsored parties. Guests – including business associates, spouses, and friends – will be welcomed at 61% of this year’s celebrations, continuing a downward trend from 2002 (63%) and 2001 (67%). Similarly, wine, beer, and spirits will be served at about three in five holiday galas (61%), also down from 2002 (63%) and 2001 (69%).

Finally, larger organizations – those with 1,000 or more employees – are ratcheting up their charitable activities this holiday season, while smaller ones are reducing their involvement.