Successful Businesses Don’t Close for President’s Day

A look at how modern companies are redefining time off from work.

I love writing for the Philly Post, but I feel obligated to point this out: Businesses don’t shut for President’s Day—at least businesses that plan to stay in business for a long time. Need proof? Just look at who does shut for President’s Day. The federal government ($16 trillion in debt). State governments (most with large deficits). The U.S. Postal Service ($16 billion loss last fiscal year). The Philadelphia School District ($1.1 billion budget shortfall). This is the company you want to keep? 

On Monday, I spoke to 150 members of the Independent Equipment Dealers Association at their annual meeting in Orlando. I asked them how many of them celebrated President’s Day by giving a day off to their people. Not a single person raised their hand. The next day, still in Orlando, I spoke to an equal number of business owners representing manufacturers of wire and steel products. I asked them the same question and got the same response.

In North Korea, everything shuts down for Kim Jong-un’s birthday. But here in America, most businesses stay open every day, with maybe five exceptions: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas. But that’s it. Other than that, it’s business as usual.

Days off are no less important now than they were 50 years ago. It’s just that smart companies handle them differently in 2013.

The typical vacation time in the U.S. is about two weeks, or 10 business days, but these days, most nimble small- and medium-sized companies are eliminating “sick days.” Instead, employees have “flex time.” Differentiating between a “sick” day and a “vacation” day sounds like something a city employee would need to do. It just creates more administrative work, and we’re short enough on administrative resources. I know quite a few companies that allow employees to take sick days at their discretion without affecting vacation. Why? Because they trust their employees to do the right thing. What a concept.

Please don’t think that I’m not a fan of vacation because I am. In fact, every employee should be required to take their vacation during the year. It is necessary for their mental health. And just as important, it also helps to catch fraud. Ask any accountant: Bookkeeping and other shenanigans are almost always revealed when the perpetrator is out of the office and someone else has to fill in with their job duties. And ask any business process consultant: Having someone fill in for an employee for a week oftentimes reveals new ideas and better ways for doing something. Vacations are a necessary internal control.

Vacations also separate the employees from the future managers. Future managers think and behave like the business owners they work for. And most business owners never really take vacation. Sure, they’re at Disney with the family and they’re doing their best to have a good time. But they never really leave the business. They’re checking in, responding to critical emails, and making sure they’re not completely off the grid. There’s never a day off from running a business. And responsible employees know this too. It’s interesting to see who realizes that when they’re out of the office.

If bosses want to give their people a little break on President’s Day, they could let them stay at home for the day and work remotely. Most are doing that anyway now with the technology available. Working from home is not exactly a day off, but let’s all agree that it’s not as much of a drudge as working in the office all day.

Many businesses don’t declare themselves “closed,” but operate with a skeleton staff just to make sure things are still running. Appearances are important. Your customers, suppliers and partners expect you to be open. They are surprised (and a little annoyed) when they find out you’re not. It’s just not done in 2013.

Businesses just don’t close on President’s Day. Unless your President is Kim Jong-un. Is that what you want?