Improving Employee Productivity on Christmas Eve… Or, An Exciting Christmas Eve at Corporate

Improving Employee Productivity on Christmas Eve... Or, An Exciting Christmas Eve at Corporate

It was a Christmas Eve in the mid-1970’s. I was a senior IT auditor in the corporate offices of a large publicly-held corporation based in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

It was the typical lazy day before a holiday break, without a whole lot to do on deadline. In fact, I was usually out at a remote divisional location and did not spend much time at headquarters. The workday was particularly dead for me and the 20 or so other staff members who were not taking the day off. It did not appear that there was anyone onsite with a title north of “Manager” and we all were pretty much on our own best behavior. The only background excitement that day was the weather which was a mixture of rain and snow with plummeting temperatures. It was the kind of day where pilots earn their pay.

The weather was of particular concern for me. It was a family tradition for my wife and me to jump into the car on Christmas Eve and drive to my parent’s home where we would celebrate Christmas. It was a long drive to the south side of Chicago (the East Side of Chicago to be exact which lies in the land between the refineries and the steel mills). My office was still another 30 minutes away. In bad weather it was a particularly testy adventure. And in the dark no less.

Lunchtime passed without any particular notice, and everyone began to wonder and comment regarding when “they” would close the headquarters office and let us venture into the wintry mess outside to celebrate the holiday. A few brave souls were even talking about taking matters into their own hands and leaving early. Who would know anyway?

My desk was right outside the office of the Corporate Controller. It was still another year before they would give me my own. At about 2:00 PM I turned around to hear a commotion and saw the President rushing up to the Controller’s secretary. Before she could turn he demanded: “Where is Jerry?” Ginny slowly turned and told the President that the Controller was in fact on vacation that week, was 1,000 miles away and unavailable by phone.

Not liking that answer, the President asked to now speak directly to the Chief Financial Officer. The CFO news was even worse. Ted was 2,000 miles away (rank has its privileges) and was less available than even Jerry. He turned around and left in huff. Ouch!

I technically was the senior on-site employee in the finance department that afternoon (that rank had no privilege), and thought that perhaps I was about to be summoned to the 10th floor where I would be required to answer some esoteric accounting or finance question for the Operating Committee or Board of Directors. I was ready. Ginny and I chuckled at the very thought of it, but after about 15 minutes we figured the crisis (and danger) had passed. We never did find out what had caused the stir.

Just then who appeared but the Corporate Office Manager carrying an official-looking clipboard with a legal pad. She looked troubled to say the least as she rapidly walked past. Pausing to say hello, she told me (in a tone that anyone within earshot could hear), that the President was upset that the office was open for business on Christmas Eve, and nobody had showed up. So she was sent to take attendance, but was unsure what would be done with her findings. She was to bring the results back to the President’s office promptly (I think his secretary was 3,000 miles away that day), and he would handle it. In passing, I asked what would have happened if I had gone to the restroom during her audit (always the wiseass when bullets are flying); she smiled and mumbled something about my career—or lack thereof.

A hush fell over the assembled corporate masses, and all thoughts of sneaking out early passed for fear of some unspeakable punishment. Who knows, maybe they would take attendance again? Heads went down and people went back to work doing whatever they were doing before, only looking more sincere.

Time passed slowly and the weather worsened significantly. Now it was dark. I called my wife to tell her I would be a bit later than expected.

Corporate headquarters closed officially around 5:00 PM, but no one was taking any chances that day. As I recall, the Office Manager once more appeared about that time and told all 20 of us to go home. (“But do not be too far from a phone.”) We all saluted and promptly left.

From that point on, the evening and holiday was uneventful. The drive was indeed testy, but the visit with my parents and the old neighborhood was very special as always. I miss those visits as the years have passed.

Is there a moral to this story? Why, yes indeed! If you are scheduling your employees to work on Christmas Eve, do not tell them the office will close early (let them guess) and then, without warning, take attendance at about 1:00 PM. In my experience they will work real hard until dismissed at quitting time. (And yes, you will probably have to tell them to leave.) Of course, their afternoon’s work product will likely be gibberish. But who cares, it’s the holidays.

But better yet, skip steps two and three and give them (and yourself) Christmas Eve off.

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