Do Stat Holidays Matter in a World of Remote Work?

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If you live in the US or Canada, you’ll likely have just celebrated Labo(u)r Day (Sorry, Americans, I’m sticking with the “u” from here on out). 

Historically speaking, Labour Day is a day to mark the struggle of labourers and the push towards workers rights (Canadian history / American history). For many, though, this weekend has become a cultural holiday to celebrate the ending of summer, back to school, and the welcome of fall. For the corporate types, it also traditionally – pre-COVID – marked the beginning of “gala and conference season,” when it’s cool enough in the North East to wear a suit without sweating profusely. 

Statutory holidays like Labour Day exist in nearly every country, each marking a point of significance. Cambodia has the most public holidays of any country in the world, with 28. The United States has nine, the UK has eight, and Canada has five, though different states or provinces may have additional days. Whether days to mark religion, war victory, independence from a dictatorial regime, or to celebrate the struggles of workers, these days have become prominent and enshrined in culture, for better or worse.

But what happens with statutory or public holidays when it comes to remote workers? 

Already out of office

One of the key benefits of public holidays is that banks and offices are typically closed. This means a long weekend or a day off. Cultural expectations vary depending on the history of the holiday, but in the modern office era this is code for “free vacation day.” 

What happens when you aren’t in an office to begin with? 

I’m a remote entrepreneur, for example. A client (a feisty startup) had a question – so I quickly answered it. Does that mean I’m not honoring Labour Day, both the historical and modern interpretations? My client happened to be Canadian, so it was indeed a “day off” for them, but they needed to get work done. 

Rules of which country?

Two scenarios emerge for me when thinking about remote workers and stat holidays: 

  1. A remote entrepreneur with clients in a different country. 
  2. A remote worker whose employer is based in a different country. 

Scenario one has happened to me a few times as a Canadian entrepreneur with American clients. Canada has a stat holiday in August, whereas Americans don’t. So whose rules do I follow? My own, because I live in Canada, or my client’s, because they’re the ones who pay the invoice? 

Of course I’m proud to be Canadian, but I could just as easily be running my Canadian-HQ’ed business from anywhere in the world. In fact, I was: last August, I was in London, England, running my business from there while travelling Europe. That adds further complication – it’s a Canadian holiday, but I’m not even in Canada, never mind handling time zones. 

Then we have remote employees working for a company HQ’ed in another country. You end up with three possible pathways: employees get stat holidays in their country of residence; employees get stat holidays based on the company’s HQ location; or the employee gets both sets stat holidays.

Option one seems the cleanest, and it’s something that remote worker infrastructure companies like handle seamlessly. However, it’s also a potential issue from a team cohesion perspective. If you’re off when everyone else is on, you might miss something. Switching to a single calendar of stat holidays, though, is likely to 1) reduce some employees’ stat holidays (which might be protected by law in their country), and 2) create a situation where people have to remove themselves from local culture to work for you, defeating the whole point of location freedom. The third option could work, though it may end up with employees getting upwards of a month off before any vacation allotment, which may not be feasible for companies to offer. 

Including self-care and work life balance in the stat holidays conversation

In North America, stat holidays are treated as additional vacation days by many companies. Some will also “round out” the stat holiday to provide a longer weekend – for example, if the holiday lands on a Friday, the company will also give Monday off as a perk. This is one way that North American companies provide more European-levels of paid time off even though we don’t have laws protecting as much paid time off as Europe (Europe averages >20 days legally protected paid time off while Canada has ~15 and the US has 0). 

Adding confusion and anxiety around stat holidays – either missing local culture or missing team bonding time – can be a huge issue when it comes to remote workers who already struggle with connection to their communities and coworkers. 

What’s the solution? To be honest, I don’t know. I’m not a policy wonk, though my opinion is that entrepreneurs should start with assuming employees get both stat holidays in their country and in the company HQ location. Pare down from there based on financial feasibility and work arrangements. To entrepreneurs, I say make sure you have time for life, culture, and recuperation – you need it. 

For US companies worried about how too many paid stat holidays will affect productivity, don’t fret – studies show the most productive workers also tend to work the fewest number of hours per week and get the most vacation. The US, which ranks number 5 on the productivity scale by Time Magazine, is the outlier in terms of not protecting paid time off for employees but still being very productive. I know this tracks well with the US’ maverick, exceptionalist vibes, but it’s really unhealthy.

This post originally appeared on Remotely Inclined.