It’s the season to work a lot less – just in time for the economy’s annual peak | Jessica mizrahi

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WWhile some people are doing well for the “holiday season,” others are gearing up for the busiest time of the year. This year’s busy season is more uncertain than most – attribute it to Omicron – but for now at least, it looks a lot like Christmas.

Anyone who has braved Christmas shopping knows that retail turnover reliably peaks in December. It is also the season to fill the checkouts of cafes, restaurants and hotels. But the latest iteration of the Covid-19 virus puts a dent in the already exhausted coffers for some. A confirmed positive can put the whole Christmas party in jeopardy. This can be a big blow for a place that relies on reservations.

Getting things done during the holidays is important not only for the hospitality industry, but for the economy in general. Generally, Christmas is far from a dead time. Instead, the December-March period is almost always the peak economic season, where we see the greatest amount of activity.

Turnover index

Source: author’s calculations, based on ABS

You would think that this also means that we are all working hard to generate this activity. Not so. In most industries, the average number of hours worked in a week is in the December quarter.

Why?

The simplest answer is that there are simply fewer working days: 75% of national holidays fall in the December quarter. While not everyone takes time off, the majority do – so we work less almost by definition.

That’s not the whole story though. There are changes in the demand and supply of labor over the summer.

Proportion of years in which the quarter records the most average weekly hours actually worked per worker

Source: author’s calculations based on ABS

On the supply side, many people who have jobs do not want to work at Christmas. Over the past five years, more people have taken annual leave in January than at any other time of the year.

While people who already have a job work less, there are also more people looking for a job. School and university vacations mean that between 2016 and 2020, there were on average 71,000 more young people aged 15-24 in the labor market during the December quarter than at other times of the year. .

Combined, these factors mean that there is a generally larger workforce during the summer in terms of staffing, but every worker is willing to put in fewer hours. This reduces the average hours.

In some sectors, the demand for labor is also lower. Businesses that sell to other businesses and to the government, for example, often face lower demand. Educational institutions, including schools and universities, are closed. Real estate agencies are silent.

Seasonal variations in demand for these businesses mean there is less work to be done. As a result, some businesses have closed, forcing staff to take annual leave – whether they like it or not. There are several business reasons for this. For office industries, for example, closures are economical. No need to hire a cleaner or turn on the air conditioning.

It also helps businesses manage vacation balances. Full-time and part-time workers, who make up around 73% of those employed in Australia, are entitled to annual leave. It is a treasure chest that we fiercely protect. For employers, however, large annual leave balances are a responsibility to be managed. After all, an employee can leave and take the treasure chest with them.

Employers are likely to be particularly keen on encouraging people to take time off this year. Border closures and blockages mean that many of us have racked up leave. Roy Morgan estimates that working Australians had nearly 175 million days of annual leave accumulated in May. With a median hourly wage of $ 36, that means a huge liability of $ 6.3 billion for employers. While there is no evidence of a major resignation in Australia, the mere rumor of above-normal turnover is likely to heighten anxiety.

Some people may not have the luxury of taking time off during the summer. While the average hours may be lower, some people find the Christmas season particularly busy and stressful. Work, as much as the prospect of a real family feud, can make the holiday season less cheerful for some.

In a 2018 survey, more than half of small business owners said they lack sleep and time with their families due to work commitments. Also think about your neighborhood station; estimates are that the postal network will deliver more than 3 million packages each day.

Whether you plan on working hard or barely, it’s been a big year. We have had ups and downs, lockdowns and days of freedom. If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s a reminder to be kind to people who work on the front lines. To the folks who will be turning the gears over the holiday season, as they were until 2021 – from all of us, thank you.

Jessica Mizrahi is an economic consultant and commentator. She has taught, researched and applied economics for over a decade

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