Thursday, June 9, 2011

What can we learn from the magic of public holidays?

It's probably true that most workplaces are a happier place on Fridays.  People look forward to the promise of the weekend, sharing plans for two precious days away from the office. But as good as Fridays can be, that's nothing compared with a P-u-b-l-i-c H-o-l-i-d-a-y!  Public holiday long weekends have a magic about them that is hard to rationalise.  We use them to shape our year, punctuating the monotony of a Monday to Friday work week, and counting down the days as they approach.  And even once enjoyed, there lingers a "short week" psychological benefit upon return to work.

At the risk of over analysing something that may be obvious, what might Behavioural Economics say about our love of public holidays? After all, in purely rational terms, you can take day of annual leave and make it a long weekend anytime. Even better, this means you avoid having to battle crowds and service surcharges. 

Well, part of the enjoyment of public holidays is herding.  Unlike a self-made long weekend, a public holiday long-weekend is shared by many. Whilst this invariably creates crowds, it also creates enormous sense of collective enjoyment that you simply cannot generate otherwise.  Part of the magic is the collective anticipation of the long weekend.

But a larger part of our love of public holidays is that they are 'free'. Public holidays are free days, like unexpected bonuses. We don't have to earn them like annual leave, nor spend them.  There's no risk, no loss, no guilt.  In a sense, the opportunity cost is low. Compare this with a normal day of annual leave where the opportunity cost may be high because what you are trading is the flexibility to take that day at another time.

This is part of the challenge businesses face with staff who do not take sufficient of their annual leave entitlement.  For the business, they carry a large liability. For the staff member, they risk wearing themselves out.  Behavioural Economics might suggest that this is in many ways connected to 'loss aversion' where we don't want to 'lose' our accumulated leave balance; that annual leave is so precious that we only want to 'spend' it on something worthwhile.

So how can we as marketers and business managers apply lessons from the magic of public holidays?

Most obviously, consider time as a reward.
- For staff, an early knock-off time or even an occasional day off in recognition of great performance is probably worth more than any financial reward.
- For marketers, imagine a competition which gave the winner paid leave and/or a temporary resource for their employer to use whilst they kicked up their heels?  Or others like providing laundering or cleaning services to increase free time.

And more broadly, work on the building blocks of public holidays; they are diarised, well known and anticipated by many, offering freedom from the everyday schedule.  Weaving these elements into your staff management or promotional activity may give you a chance at capturing some of the public holiday magic. But most importantly, consider what loss you are eliminating. Make it guilt free and you should find success.

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