In Focus, United Kingdom

The economy-crippling Christmas spirit

The season rolls around once more, and Britons all over the country are spending in their billions to welcome in the festive weeks. Presents, treats, decorations and tons of sterling are changing hands, for ‘tis the season. Britons are spending a lot – but what are they costing the country?

Erica Buist
Studies have shown that around the Christmas period, a huge number of Britain’s employees are calling in sick due to hangovers, skiving off work to go shopping, getting disciplined or fired for misconduct at staff Christmas parties, and even ending up in hospital for alcohol-related incidents. Does this festive spending cover the costs of their conduct?

Accident and Emergency departments are likely to be busy during the holidays – according to NHS LiveWell, over 80,000 people a year need hospital treatment due to accidents during the festive season, many of them alcohol-related.

Yet even those who don’t end up needing medical care can cost the country money with their Christmas antics. The Christmas season brings with it Office Christmas Party season, and figures released in the Aviva “Morning After…” report have shown that the British economy could lose over £216 million in ‘sick days’. 2.31 million UK workers have admitted to calling in sick due to too much alcohol or an accident at the work Christmas party. Moreover, in a survey of 1,278 workers, 67% admitted to lying to their boss in order to go Christmas shopping.

In a study of over 2,000 workers, commissioned by teletextholidays.co.uk, workers admitted in their hundreds to spending the last week before Christmas slowing down, taking long lunches, shopping under the pretence of attending a meeting and coming into work hungover. Half of the survey candidates admitted to noticeably slowing down during the build-up to the Christmas holidays, 34% of them choosing December 14th as the starting point, and 45% revealed that they felt coming into work hungover was accetable in the lead-up to Christmas.

Even employees at their desks may be draining the economy; it seems 40% of Christmas and New Year party planning takes place from behind office desks, and 23% spend December working hours researching their New Year break.

Furthermore, a general feeling of “winding down” seems to be part and parcel of the season, with 28% pre-planning to come into work late at some point in the run-up to Christmas, and 21% planning to call in sick at least once.

Collating all this information, it seems that Christmas brings out the worst in Britons, apparently a nation of lazy, drunken fibbers. Is British Christmas spirit really a drain on the economy?

Whether or not this collective Christmas behaviour can be judged acceptable, perhaps it is worth pointing out that as a nation Britain does a huge amount of unpaid overtime throughout the year, which in terms of the economy more than makes up for the lax attitude in the week or so before Christmas.

According to various sources including the Trades Union Congress, over five million UK workers regularly do unpaid overtime, amounting to around £27.4 billion of free work every year. Research has shown that UK workers do an average of seven hours and six minutes unpaid overtime every week, adding up to £4,800 worth of unpaid overtime each year.

Draining the British economy of £216 million in sick days doesn’t seem too drastic against the figure of £27.4 billion in free work. Are the people putting in the extra hours the same people who are skiving off work to go shopping? With no survey to answer that question, we are simply left with the facts, that over the course of a year the UK economy makes much more money from the people than they drain with their Christmas antics.

So in the battle of UK workers vs. the economy, perhaps everyone should take one more long festive lunch, leave at 4:45pm and call it quits.

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