Working the week between Christmas and New Year: Welcome to the office dead zone

In Norway, this week has a name – Romjul – meaning 'half-holy

Petula Dvorak
Washington DC
Wednesday 30 December 2015 10:39 GMT
We’re in the office dead zone, the abyss between Christmas and New Year
We’re in the office dead zone, the abyss between Christmas and New Year ( Rex)

Ring ring. Ring ring. Nope. No one’s in.

Only broken candy canes remain on the office food table. Half the lights are off, and the air feels weird inside. Does everyone else feel groggy, too?

Helloooo? Is anyone else at work?

We’re in the office dead zone, the abyss between Christmas and New Year. Whether you’re a lawyer, an investment banker, the sandwich guy or the salad lady, this feels like Zombie Week.

Does it have a name? “Slothivus”? “Slogmas”?

In Norway it does. “Romjul,” explained Marianne Knight, administrative officer for the Norwegian Embassy in the District.

“We call that week romjul. It goes way back, from the old Norse. It means half-holy,” said Knight, from her American­-style workday, where she’s heating up Christmas dinner leftovers in the embassy microwave.

In Norway, romjul is a week of half­celebrations — not quite the solemnity of Christmas nor the glee of New Year.

“The typical thing to do in Norway is visit family, visit friends, and you eat and you eat and you eat,” she explained.

Instead, in America and the UK we have this weird half-workweek. Halfhearted. Half-staffed. A nearly somnambulant purgatory of halvishness.

“Yeah, there aren’t a lot of people in the office,” acknowledged Mike Wu, 29, one of the Washington lawyers who didn’t take the week off. There’s no line at the food trucks he goes to for lunch. There’s no one on the pavements. Even his parents took off after Christmas.

“I can get a lot of work done, at least,” Wu explains. “It’s quiet.”

Less than a third of American office workers surveyed by the staffing firm Robert Half will take this week off.

Offices may look empty. But it’s the salad lady (“It’s slow! S-L-O-W,” she says) who suffers.

The truth? Most of the office folks who don’t show up at work aren’t really off.

They’re checking in via email, writing year-end reports in their flannel jammies at home, not really clocking out during this half-holiday week.

“Sixty per cent of employees will check in with the office if they’re away,” according to the Robert Half report.

Even Robert Half tells us it’s a half-week. We need to be done with it and declare romjul.

At least one US company figured this out. Yes, Virginia, there is an American romjul. It’s at the mega-giant accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The entire place shuts down, and everyone gets the entire time between Christmas and New Year’s off. Paid.

The tradition began in 2003, after Congress passed a vast overhaul in corporate accounting law that sent PricewaterhouseCoopers and its workforce into overdrive.

“We were under intense hours, it was an intense year,” said Terri McClements, market managing partner for the accounting firm’s Washington region.

The firm wanted to reward its employees for their hard work that year with more than cash bonuses, corporate turkeys or even a few extra vacation days.

The company decided to simply shut down. Except for a small number of people who have immovable deadlines (they get to take the free vacation days later), the accounting shop closes from Christmas to New Year.

“It was the best thing we’ve done,” said McClements, who broke ranks to talk to me from Hilton Head, in South Carolina, where she was tandem bike riding with her 8-year-old.

It’s not the half-vacation where you’re worried that you’re missing stuff at work. It’s not the holiday where the boss with no life is in the office, counting the empty desks.

Everyone is off. Really off. No email. No calls. No work.

They’ve been doing it for 13 years now.

There’s a big difference in the way things feel when even the big bosses are out of the office and unplugged, said Beth Parker, the Washington region’s director of public relations.

It tells the 46,000 employees to relax. “Really, I’ve received zero emails,” Parker said.

The only communication they encourage? Tweets on what they’re doing with their 10 days:

“Spending time on the slopes with the family! That’s how #pwctakesabreak!”

“So happy to close out work for the calendar year by the fire in Ireland with some family time #pwctakesabreak”

“Searching for new Baccala recipe for the Feast of the Seven Fishes! Looking forward to Christmas with family & friends. #pwctakesabreak”

Last year, Bob Moritz, the US chairman and senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, did the mic drop of tweet pics during this unplugged time — broadcasting a picture of his feet in the sand.

Happy Romjul, accountants.

And for the rest of us: Anyone know whether the cafeteria is open this week?

Copyright: Washington Post

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