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With COVID-19 hospitalizations at a record high for the 12th day in a row, leaving hospitals across the country without available beds, businesses and state governments are scrambling to slow the spread. What does this mean for the holidays?

Travel is not recommended or otherwise restricted, but the resounding call to slow the spread of the coronavirus means a dramatic shift for people accustomed to spending the holiday season surrounded by friends and family. The travails of how Americans are dealing with this unprecedented change in deeply seeded traditions is the focus of a new study from the billing software company Skynova. The biggest takeaway? Fifty-four percent of employees said they were “apprehensive about asking for additional time off.”

Despite being prevented from keeping the holidays full and festive, it doesn’t mean that workers do not deserve a break from the disruptive effects of 2020. Skynova’s report queried 1,005 US workers and asked whether businesses will take advantage of the dearth of holiday celebrations and shorten time off policies or will it “extend 2020 sympathy” and actually increase allotted time off?

It’s no secret that Americans have considerably less paid vacation time than their European counterparts and the almost year spent working and sheltering-from-home has, the report pointed out, “made people want to go out more than ever before, and in a dream world, companies would recognize the much-needed time off.

However, 54% of employees said company policy on time off around the holidays is unchanged and nearly 30% of the polled report policies have actually become more restrictive. Those employees who work for companies with increased time off restrictions are unsurprisingly the most likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs.

Skynova researcher Melody Kasulis advised, “Ideally, companies should foster an environment in which employees feel comfortable approaching their boss/team leader/HR representative about their concerns, especially during this turbulent period.

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Rankings can lift restrictions

On the other hand, those with fewer restrictions said they were “satisfied.” Restrictions are not the only limitations, Skynova found. Senior managers and executives planned on taking the most days off, an average of 7.1 days. Senior-level employees have a planned average of 6.3 days, but entry-level or associate employees plan on taking just 3.9 days off on average. Across all levels in business, the report said, “employees are allotted more days off for Christmas than Thanksgiving.”

Eschewing time off

A key finding in the study is that 61% of employees plan to work during the holidays this year, “a trend likely fueled by an increase in remote work and the job market’s uncertainty during the pandemic. Across job levels and generations, entry-level associates and millennials were the most likely to take advantage of the break and say no to working through it. Nevertheless, millennials were also the most likely to plan on working a lot and not taking time off at all.”

From the aforementioned 54% of employees reluctant to ask for extra time off, nearly 40% said it was hard to take time off because they didn’t want to fall behind, while nearly 37% said they were simply worried about taking too much time off.

Other common factors in this reluctance are not seeing family this season, worrying about being fired, and the increasing chances of a raise. Skynova’s study found that to further the evidence that COVID-19 has been impactful this year, “it’s clearly seeped into personal lives, making employees let the work-life balance fall to the wayside.”

Unsurprisingly, morale has dropped, no matter how many days off they received. As an example, Skynova reported that employees who were given more than five days were only 1.6% more likely to report a high morale over those who were given one to two days off. Similar results were applied to time off during Christmas, said the report. Generationally, baby boomers were the least worried about the pandemic.

“Whether working remotely or in-office, employees should reach out to their boss/team leader/HR representative and let them know that they have concerns, or a time off request, that they’d like to discuss and arrange a time to do so,” Kasulis said. “While meeting, employees should be prepared with questions so they can have their concerns addressed satisfactorily, or be prepared to present their request for time off and how much time they plan to take.”

Skynova’s report concludes with “With the pandemic’s uncertainty, the apprehension and dedication to working through the holidays makes sense, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we all could use a break. All we have to do is take it.”

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