- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2012

While American families celebrate the Fourth of July with barbecues and fireworks this week, any apple pie Dennis Christensen eats will be in his Sacramento, Calif., office as he oversees Tony’s Fine Foods operations.

“Our business scope is too big to try to do weeks off like that,” the facilities manager said. “One day out would really put a bind in things.”

Mr. Christensen and others among America’s managerial class are facing one of their worst nightmares: a national holiday that falls smack dab in the middle of the week. For the first time since 2007, the Fourth comes on a Wednesday, neatly bisecting the workweek and posing severe staffing, productivity and motivational challenges.

The warm weather and start of vacation season tempt employees to try to schedule treasured five-day weekends, while customers demand continued service despite the holiday. Tuesday becomes, in effect, a second Friday - the least productive day of the week, according to academic studies. Companies that compete globally must deal with international corporations that aren’t about to interrupt their workweeks to accommodate another country’s Independence Day.

Other holidays, including Memorial Day and Labor Day, fall without fail on a Monday, making for a compact three-day weekend and posing minimal workplace disruptions. Even Thanksgiving, every fourth Thursday in November, is less problematic than an Independence Day that falls on a Wednesday.

A Friday or Monday holiday “would have been much easier,” said Lynn Ann Casey, CEO of the Arlington-based consulting firm Arc Aspicio. “Wednesday makes the whole week very difficult.”

Tony’s Fine Foods serves grocery stores, pizzerias and cafes across the West Coast that remain open on the Fourth. The company would lose more than one day’s business if it could not deliver on the holiday.

“It would disrupt [our customers’] receiving patterns,” Mr. Christensen said.

The food distributor closes only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. To compensate employees, Tony’s Fine Foods pays them for their time worked in addition to holiday pay.

Ms. Casey, whose firm offers mainly homeland security and defense consulting services, can sympathize. With her firm sorely understaffed, she must remain in the office to make sure her company meets its deadlines.

“I tend to take time off when it’s not around the holidays. It’s kind of backward,” Ms. Casey said. “I need to be around if a lot of people are on vacation.”

A holiday that falls midweek often costs much more than just one day of work. Accountemps employment agency found that 34 percent of managers surveyed thought a holiday caused work productivity to drop. Eleven percent of managers said Wednesday is the most productive day of the week, but 57 percent said Tuesday is the most productive day.

While it may be tempting for offices to remain open during the holiday to avoid disruption, Mark Adams, director of human resources at Massachusetts-based Employers Association of the Northeast, said there are other factors to take into account. It is common practice to give time off for the holiday even if it is not required, so forcing employees to work may have negative consequences for employee satisfaction, he said.

“Clearly, companies that contemplate that are in the minority, just because there’s so much already out there in the community,” Mr. Adams said.

According to a December survey by Mercer, a London-based human-resource consulting firm, the U.S. and Canada are among the few countries in the world that do not mandate the number of holidays that private-sector employers must allow. At 28 days per year, Britain tops the international charts for offering the most holidays. The Philippines gives the least, with five holidays per year.

Story Continues →