New holiday deserves support (Editor’s notes)

Extra day off might deliver overall benefits
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/20/2007

Political promises made during campaigning usually don’t merit much attention. Almost any politician, at any level and of any stripe, will tell voters whatever it is they want to hear in order to get elected. But one recent promise by a ruling party deserves some close scrutiny in the HR world.

Ontario is in the midst of a provincial election campaign and the ruling Liberals kicked off the campaign with the promise of the creation of “Family Day,” a new statutory holiday in February.

Workers in Alberta have enjoyed a February holiday since 1990, celebrating Family Day on the third Monday in February. Saskatchewan leapt into the fray last year, and Manitoba is expected to jump on the bandwagon in 2008.

The announcement by the Ontario Liberals has sparked criticism and cynicism. Business groups are opposed to it. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the holiday could cost Ontario’s economy as much as $2 billion. It would also hit small businesses hard, as they would either have to shut down for the day or pay employees overtime. Many voters see it as a blatant attempt at a vote grab. After all, what worker wouldn’t want another holiday? It’s a slam-dunk political promise that will undoubtedly garner votes.

But, despite the economic hit another holiday will have, employers should fight their instincts and embrace the idea, and perhaps even advocate for it in other jurisdictions that don’t have a February holiday. HR might even be able to put together a business case that shows the benefits of a winter holiday actually outweigh the pitfalls — or at least make it a wash.

In jurisdictions that don’t have a February holiday, there’s a long gap between New Year’s and Easter without a single long weekend where workers can stop and catch their breath. It’s the longest stretch in the calendar without a holiday and it comes at the most depressing time of the year. The weather is snowy and frigid and the sun rises after most Canadians are on the job and dips below the horizon before they punch out.

According to Environment Canada, the daily average temperature in Calgary in February is -6.1C and the low is -12C. In Regina the daily average is -11.9C and the low is -17.1C. Workers in those two cities undoubtedly treasure that one day where they don’t have to wake up early, trudge out in the frigid darkness and clear off the car windows.

Alberta has been celebrating the holiday for 17 years and it hasn’t put much of a damper on the provincial economy. And Saskatchewan’s productivity didn’t disappear into a black hole earlier this year when its workers stayed home. So it’s a relatively safe assumption that Manitoba and Ontario will be able to weather Family Day.

Plus Canadians need more vacation days. In a survey of 44 countries released earlier this year, only China ranked lower than Canada in vacation, according to Mercer Human Resource Consulting. Canadians had about 20 days of vacation — consisting of a minimum of 10 paid days of vacation and 10 paid public holidays.

That’s way behind the leader, Finland, where workers have a minimum of 30 paid days of vacation and 14 paid public holidays. So there’s a bit of wiggle room.

And many workers don’t even take all the time they’re allotted. Shutting down the workplace for the day forces everyone to take some time to relax and unwind. And they’re more productive for it.

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