Can I win the tussle for Christmas leave?

8th August, 2009

Dear Economist,
In the bunfight for Christmas leave, it’s never too early to start. I work in middle office, where there is an operational requirement to be staffed to a minimum of 50 per cent at all times. This year there are three working days between Christmas and New Year, and nobody wants to work them. What is the fairest way of divvying up the Christmas leave?
Middle Office Minion, London

Dear Minion,

It is an outrage that you and your colleagues have been placed in this absurd position. Let’s review the facts: you place a higher value on your time between Christmas and New Year, but your company’s annual leave policy does not place a higher price on these days. Given this pricing policy, everybody wants leave at Christmas, and so a bureaucratic bodge job is duly handed down from on high.

It is as though the company had offered each staff member a Christmas gift of either a bottle of champagne or a can of lager, and then started inventing rules on discovering that there was not enough champagne for everyone. The idiots who foisted this system on you should scrap it at once, and instead offer sufficient overtime pay at Christmas to ensure that there are enough recruits.

Failing that, the sensible solution is to arrange side-payments among yourselves. The people who value the break least (those with different faiths, or infuriating relatives) should be the ones doing Christmas duty, while the rest pay them compensation. Arrange a quick auction in which the amount of compensation rises over time; when enough bidders have dropped out of the auction, the remaining bidders pay the volunteers to hold the fort. Perhaps the compensation should be suitably seasonal: the bidding could open at one partridge in a pear tree.

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