Thursday, May 8, 2008

Holiday Productivity

Many years ago, I was traveling through Europe and at one point, I took a train to Madrid, Spain. I arrived on November 1, and discovered that this huge, modern metropolis appeared completely deserted, as though a terrible plague had wiped out the entire population. After wandering the streets in confusion for several hours, I found a man sitting in a parked car and asked him where all the people had gone. He told me that November 1 is All Saint’s Day, which is a national holiday in Spain. Everyone was in church or at home with their families. Museums were closed, restaurants were closed, supermarkets were closed. I found a hotel by pure luck, and the owner took pity on me and gave me some food. I spent a miserable day unable to do anything, and took the next train out of town.

Now that I work for an international company, I’m discovering that every country celebrates national holidays throughout the calendar year that don’t coincide with holidays in the United States. For example, lots of countries have Labor Day holidays, but their Labor Day isn’t the same as ours. Lots of countries celebrate Independence Day, but surprisingly, they didn’t all declare their independence on July 4.

But everybody celebrates Christmas on December 25, right? Wrong. In Greece, Russia and other countries where the Eastern Orthodox Church is dominant, it’s celebrated on January 7 because the church still uses the Julian calendar (which has been accumulating errors over the centuries and is currently 13 days behind the more accurate Gregorian calendar in use today). And of course, Israel and many Muslim countries don’t have official observances of Christmas at all.

Many countries have their own oddball national holidays as well. Tomb Sweeping Day in China (April 4), Royal Ploughing Day in Cambodia (May 23), Boxing Day in the United Kingdom (December 26), etc.

This has caused some problems for me and others in my company, because we rely on worldwide personnel to contribute to our projects, which have fixed delivery dates. When I need answers to questions, I often find that the people who can answer them aren’t at work. I’m sure the same thing happens when they need to talk to me. The potpourri of non-coinciding national holidays has created something of a minefield when it comes to project planning. For example, in the month of June, 2008, every day is a holiday somewhere.

I’m sure I’m not the first one to think of this, but it seems that in a worldwide economy, it would be in the best interests of countries who stand to benefit from outsourcing and international trading partnerships to consider moving some of their holidays to common days. I’m aware that some holidays, particularly religious holidays, cannot be moved without bloodshed.

But for those countries willing to move at least some of their holidays, the first step is to agree on a standard calendar. It’s the 21st century, we understand celestial dynamics, nobody cares how they measured time 3,000 years ago.

The next step is to agree that lots of holidays are moveable. In the United States, we observe a number of holidays on a Friday or a Monday, for the convenience of a 3-day weekend. Nobody cares when the actual birthday of a national hero occurs; all they care about is when they get to take the day off. Once you make that small concession, it’s easy to make the next step.

The final step is Coincidence. Every country agrees to move their movable holidays so they all coincide. They don’t have to be the same holiday, they just have to occur on the same day. So Slovakia celebrates Slovak Uprising Day on Friday, August 29 and the United States celebrates Labor Day on Monday, September 1 this year. I’m sure we could come to an agreement.

The outcome of these negotiations would be an international calendar of holidays, the bulk of which would coincide. Each country would have a few national holidays that would differ, but not enough to cause serious impact to world productivity.

As I see it, the biggest obstacle is that some countries have more holidays than others. To make this work, some holidays in holiday-happy countries (such as Lebanon, with 20) would have to be downgraded to regional holidays or “festival” status, like Cinco de Mayo in Mexico. Holiday-poor countries (such as Canada, with only 8) would benefit by the assignment of some new holidays, which they can name whatever they want.

Of course, this will never work. But if they agree to televise the negotiations, it would probably be the highest-rated show in world history. How about it, Canada? If you’ll move Canada Day from July 1 to July 4, you can have another holiday. Deal or No Deal?


fourstar said...

I may have to move to Lebanon. Twenty national holidays? Sheesh. That said, there are other issues there which might not be offset by an afternoon sitting around sipping Pimms in the garden. YMMV.

On another note, Dave Gorman is already proposing an amendment to the calendar of which you might approve:

Problem Solving.

Chris said...

I say we bomb them all into submission.

michael said...

when I'm President King I will bring this before the UN. You have earned yourself a cabinet post of your choosing, congrats.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tim,

While you are at it. Watch out for funny time zone differences. I used to think all timezone changes could be measured in whole hours until I found out about parts of India where the shift might be 10.5 hours or even a quarter hour. It gets to be fun when you're trying to arrange conference calls - nancy